When I first started blogging, I wanted to augment my work here with a blog devoted to Emily Dickinson, a deeply spiritual poet with whom I find a friendly resonance. I wanted to call my site “An Admiring Blog,” a take on a line from Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?” But the name was already taken. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from musing on her work. I wrote this poem with Dickinson’s “The Mighty Merchant” in mind:

Choose your cross.
Pick the size and shape.
Mull over wood grains.
Perhaps I can help?
Peter, you know, chose to go feet-first.
Some saints I know like their crosses
perfectly square.
But don’t let me sway you.
Your choice should be tempered
by the size of your soul.
There are those who carry mahogany
as lightly as balsa,
others with twined sticks, twigs really,
who bend under the weight
like make-believe martyrs.

Let me tell you a secret:
You will always choose the cross you know.
Its contours are familiar, the upright beam
settles easily between your shoulder blades.
Oh, you claim to hate it,
but over the years you’ve learned
to heft its weight. A new cross
can be wily — green wood
can bend and wriggle like a viper
you only thought you understood.

All crosses are vouchsafed,
guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Don’t fret, dear Consumer!
You’ll scarcely notice:
A carpenter I know
will take an end.
He has experience with these things.
You have only to ask.

When my son was in grade school, a teacher wrote two words on the board: “Boisterous” and “Timid.” She told the class that these are the two personality types, and went around the class, saying “Boisterous” or “Timid,” as she pointed at the students. This really frosted my cupcake, and I was about to call that teacher and give her a piece of my ever-loving mind.

But I had to cool my jets as I realized that my son and the other students weren’t bothered by this teacher. “That’s just how she is, Ma.” And I realized that maybe he had learned something. Adults don’t always have their facts straight, and you can’t let someone else’s opinion diminish you.

It was clear that he also knew that the teacher was a “personality type” as well. She was a bit flaky, went off on tangents and was sometimes in her own world. Wow. People like that! Ha ha! Oh wait. I’m like that, too.

It was also a teachable moment for me. I was about to step in, as I’ve always done, to protect my son’s precious psyche. Well, he didn’t need me to charge in like the cavalry then, and he surely doesn’t need it today, at sixteen years old. He’s a young man now.

I’ve been so used to being my son’s advocate that I forgot something. He’s already out there in the world. He sees how it is. By trying to “protect” him, I’m impeding his ability to navigate the world in his own way.

The best thing I can do is keep him covered in plentiful prayer, and trust that I raised him well enough to make the right choices in life. Stepping back is never easy for a parent, but it’s the only way our kids will be able to step up and walk the path on their own terms. My son’s not a boy anymore. It’s about time for me to get out the way and let the man through.

snowI had to laugh when I read Lori’s post.  “Winter has murdered fall…”

That’s definitely one way to put it. I’ve seen flurries twice this week and its only mid-November.  The sky has been gray all day and we’ve got snow, real snow, in the forecast for tomorrow.

But the Youth Group is also having a chili luncheon for a fund raiser.  Each family is supposed to bring two desserts.  What will happen with the fund raiser if we get inches of snow as predicted?  Will the kids meet their goal? And who will eat all those desserts?  People may very well stay home.

What to do?  Bake and hope for the best?  Or buy a gallon of milk and prep for the worst?

The reality is that although God may know what tomorrow will bring, we don’t have a clue.  We obsess.  We worry.  We fret.  And I’m not just talking about the weather either.

I’m not going to say that I’m always excellent at this, but I try to leave it in God’s hands.  Instead of fussing, I do what I can do with the understanding that God has a plan. I may not know what it is, but God who is merciful and just — he knows.

The first thing that I did, in spite of the grey skies, was buy daffodil and crocus bulbs.  They will add some color and verve to God’s world come spring, which will come in spite of all our hand ringing.

Then I made rice crispy treats and baked a pan of brownies.  If there aren’t enough people at church to eat all the desserts, I might have a little something to bring home and nibble while I decide where to plant the bulbs in preparation for spring.  Only God knows exactly when it will warm up but I can do what I can do – have Faith that even if snow falls tomorrow, spring will come.

–SueBE

The leaves that started to turn are off the trees. Winter has murdered Fall with icy fingers. Or skip the poetics: It’s cold out there. On Monday, it was 72 degrees. On Wednesday, 25. We never did get an autumnal blaze of glory. Tulip-lovers are planting bulbs with gloved hands, wondering how they lost their window of opportunity so quickly. Rarely have the seasons changed with such brutal rapidity.

Still, there are warm moments: The Pope has announced that Vatican bathrooms will be outfitted with showers for the use of homeless people. The Supreme Court upheld gay marriage in Kansas, opening the door for a longtime friend of mine to officially cement her relationship with her beloved partner. Thanksgiving approaches and folks online and out in the world are expressing gratitude, collecting for the needy and just generally upping their spiritual game.

Let us not be dismayed at the freeze, meteorologically or metaphorically. Faith is all about seeing the good among the wicked, the single flower in the snow, and hanging on to it with all one’s might. Some might ask why. I prefer to ask why not. Why not take every little bit of goodness and roll it up into a ball and stash it in your pocket to keep you warm against the chill of bad tidings, war and injustice?

My spirituality makes some people nervous. How can I believe in God when X, Y and Z are happening in the world? How can I stay with a church that excludes, that cannot take a step forward without groans of protest and threats of further retreat? The answer is: I don’t know; I just do. Somewhere, in the small, still center of myself, I know what I know. God is love. I need to be in a place where change can be effected. Goodness will triumph in the end.

When winter winds blast you, why not stand with those who are trying to keep warm, whether through good deeds or religious faith? I know my choice. Come on over — our love will keep us warm.

Mayor DeBlasio of New York City was interviewed about residents still re-building two years after Superstorm Sandy. He said they’d sent out 100 checks to families in the Build-it-Back Program, as compared to none earlier this year.

It made me wonder. Sure, if you compare your tiny accomplishment to nothing, heck, it seems to be something. I think we need to set the bar a skooch higher.

On a bottle of juice, there were the words “20% less sugar!” and I thought, as compared to what? A big bag of sugar?

Paula Deen was embroiled (pun alert!) in controversy last year when she revealed that she’d developed diabetes. This celebrity chef made meals with tons of fat and sugar, but she seemed to feel it was unrelated to her health condition. Once, she put a whole stick of butter in a recipe, saying to the camera, “This time we’re cutting back on the butter; normally I use two sticks!”

I guess it’s all about your frame of reference.

And isn’t it true sometimes that we pray, not really expecting God to move on our behalf? It’s possible we’re unconsciously comparing Him to people, some of whom promise things and never deliver.

I’ve got a theory. I think we actually receive answers to our prayers every time we pray.

The answer is either:

□It’s on its way

-or-

□Something better is coming

After all, winning the lottery might not actually provide you with what you truly seek:  happiness. God knows you’re not asking for this specific thing, but what you believe it will bring.

The beauty of praying to the One the Bible calls “the Most High God” is that you’re not praying with your hands, you’re praying with your heart.

So I say, you might as well aim high with your prayers. You might be surprised at the blessings that come your way.

praying for helpRecently, something happened that brought this joke to mind.

A religious man sat on his roof during a huge flood.  A man in a boat rowed by and yelled “get in!” 

The religious man shook his head.  “No, I have faith in God.  He’ll send me a miracle.”

When the water was to his waist, another boat came along.  “Get in!”

“No. I have faith in God.”

When the water is up to his chest, another boat comes by but still, he refuses to get in because he knows God will send him a miracle.

As the water reaches his head, he hears the thump of a helicopter.  They throw down a ladder but he won’t climb in, still waiting for God.

The man drowns and when he sees St. Peter, he starts complaining.  “Why didn’t God send me a miracle!?”

St. Peter shakes his head.  “Why are you fussing?  He sent three boats and a helicopter.  What more do you want?”

What made me think of this was a request that I got last weekend.  Our church hosted an event for Presbytery and one of the organizers asked some of us to bake a dessert and bring it in.  She had already purchased the mixes and added a card with directions (when and where to drop off).

“Can you do this for me?” she asked as she handed me a lemon cake mix.

“No, this is deadline week but I’ll see if Dan or Jared can help.”

I’ve never seen someone snatch back a mix so quickly.  She wasn’t about to let my son or husband help in spite of the number of mixes she was still carting around.  Apparently, she doesn’t know who makes most of our fudge and cookie dough at Christmas.

But it made me think.  I’ve got a work load right now that while a blessing is also heavy duty. It means that I need help with things around the house, things that I normally do myself.  When I pray to God for the assistance I need from my family, it will help if I haven’t already made up my mind exactly what form that help will take. That mindset will leave me cradling an arm load of mixes as the flood waters rise.

–SueBE

“If you give God a hair, he will give you a mountain,” said my friend on the phone. She’d just finished telling me about something that happened to her on a recent trip. She’d been arguing with her sister, and decided to choose peace instead. She swallowed her anger and let tolerance prevail. Then she walked to a local church where what I can only construe as a miracle occurred. I won’t describe it because I don’t want to water it down — or subject it to skepticism, which, Good Readers, despite your best intentions, you’d be destined to color it with. I myself briefly fought against my own tendency toward eye-rolling incredulity. But I believe my friend. (And for all of you in the “pictures or it didn’t happen” crowd, there are pictures. It happened.)

But the miracle isn’t the point here. It’s about how generously God loves us. My friend made a tiny step away from her usual pattern of combativeness, and was lavishly rewarded with a life-changing moment. Imagine that! Imagine what might happen if you were to change in a larger way!

We all have things we’d like to change about ourselves. I’m not talking about the size of your waist or your wallet. I’m talking about your soul. We all have flaws we need to work on. But just like proud parents encouraging a baby to take his first steps, God encourages us in our journeys, too. When we wobble, he provides support. And when we take a tenuous step, he cheers. If we happen to do the unimaginable — traveling, say, from a distant land of spiritual rejection, squandered potential and sin and back into God’s arms — that’s when the real celebration occurs. Fatted calf? Check. Magnificent robe, rings on every finger, and a party for all our friends? Check, check, and check again.

Don’t believe me? I understand. It’s easier to live in skepticism than to make the improbable journey to belief. There’s a lot more evidence for skepticism than there is for belief. Just go on-line for ten minutes. You’ll get your fill — and then some — of negativity. But if you want something better, something different, all it takes is the slightest movement. A single hair. You’ll be surprised at the mountain you receive in return.

In New Jersey, experts tell us that the economy is improving – based partially on the fact that there are fewer people receiving unemployment benefits than in previous years.

The assumption is that those formerly unemployed are now working. But actually, there is a sizable percentage no longer receiving unemployment checks, as they’ve exhausted their benefits. They haven’t found jobs but are no longer counted because they no longer receive unemployment benefits. In the meantime, the poverty level in the state is rising.

In Newark today, the police are advising those filing simple assault complaints to take these matters to municipal court instead. There aren’t enough police officers in the city to address violent crime, so they’ve taken this approach to deal with “lesser” criminal matters.

Because of this, it might seem as if the crime rate in Newark is going down. Crimes that aren’t reported to the police don’t get counted in the police department’s figures.

And in some ways, we judge ourselves and others by flawed figures as well. We seem to measure success by “false positives.” Things such as what’s in your bank account, what sort of car you drive, and the amount of jewelry you have. These things in and of themselves are not negative, but using them as a barometer of accomplishment can have a detrimental effect on the psyche. It can leave you feeling empty.

The question is: are you happy? Do you have projects that make you feel as if you’re tapping into your creative impulses and allow you to contribute something in the world? Have you found the people who “get” you so that you don’t have to explain yourself, and yet you know that they’ll always have your back? Are you walking the path that you’ve chosen, or have you fallen into a life of what’s expected of you?

Don’t let the world’s definition of success skew your sense of who you are. Peace that travels with you, a Co-Pilot you can count on and faith that moves mountains. These are the things that keep your soul whole.

Last week I watched an amazing TED video (see below) with Kimberley Motley.  Kimberly is an American lawyer who works within the Afghani legal system, using the laws and customs of that country to protect women and girls.

In her own words, she works for justness using the law for its intended purpose, to protect.  She reeducates communities about little used or forgotten laws.  She shows fathers and brothers and elders how to protect their own girls. She reminds them that they know what is right and good. And, given these reminders, they choose just-ness.

What does this have to do with prayer and spirituality?  As Lori recently pointed out, it is hard to be spiritual in our consumer driven world. It is hard to do what is right and kind when so many people choose what is cruel but easy.

The thing is I believe that there are a wealth of people out there who know what is right and kind and good. They don’t often speak out or act in obvious ways because they feel outnumbered.  Like us, they feel like they are the only ones.

I’m not saying that we all need to take things to the court room.  After all, we aren’t all lawyers.

Last week at our final meet, I saw what a group of swimmers could do to influence others for good.  As the coaches gave out medals, the winners stood on the starting blocks so that everyone could be photographed by their parents in the stands.

Because relays involve four swimmers per team it gets a little tricky. As one group approached their block, two swimmers stepped up and wouldn’t make space for the others.  They shook their heads no, clearly telling their team mates that they had gotten there first and there just wasn’t room.

One of the swimmers gestured to another block.  On it stood four boys, arms flung around each other’s shoulders as they held each other in place, celebrating their work as a team.

When they saw this, the first two boys made room for their team mates.  No lectures were needed.  No coaches stepped in.  They just had to see someone else doing it to remember “hey, this is what we should be doing too.”

As a Christian, I am often frustrated by the world around me.  But, if I do what is right, I know that sometimes my actions will remind other people that they too know what is good and right and just.  Sometimes it just takes a gentle reminder.

–SueBE

 

They rang the bell. Twice. Then they knocked. They weren’t going away, so I opened the door. I could see copies of “The Watchtower” in the hands of one of the men. Ugh, Jehovah’s Witnesses! Maybe I could quickly blurt out, “I’m Catholic!” and slam the door. But I didn’t.

Instead, I listened to their spiel. And you know what? It was sweet, all about bringing God’s will in heaven to our earthly plane. Of course, we are bound to have doctrinal differences, and my view of God’s will being done on earth almost certainly does not strictly adhere to their vision. But it was nice, being near people who cared enough about their spirituality to slog door to door, undoubtedly facing plenty of rejection.

I understand rejection — or at least apathy. It is difficult to be a spiritual person in a consumer-driven, “might equals right”, “he (and I do not choose this pronoun thoughtlessly) with the most money rules” society. And it’s terribly difficult to keep putting yourself out there, knowing most people won’t listen or care…that they may, in fact, think that you’re a fanatic, or worse, just loopy.

I asked the Witnesses how they deal with rejection. It did not seem to get them down. “Some people just don’t understand,” said the retired minister. “But remember, Jesus could not get everyone to understand, either. He was simply happy with those who did get the message.”

Eventually, they moved on. On to face slammed doors, a mass of “no thank you’s,” and similar reactions. Having a blog and a radio show, I don’t get to actually see the slammed doors or hear the polite excuses, but I know they’re out there. I sometimes hear the more virulent responses, the ones from those who not only think I’m loopy but actually dangerous. But even that is a rare thing. Mostly, I live in a void, not knowing if anyone hears me at all.

And you know what? I can live with that. But is sure helps to know that I’m not alone. You don’t have to proselytize to show your spirituality, but it sure doesn’t hurt to let the world know you exist, that you and your faith are not going away. Keep knocking, people. Keep knocking.

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