“Why can’t I just get a cold like a normal person?” I wailed to my husband. “Why must everything be so drastic?” It’s true. I haven’t had a simple cold in 25 years. It’s always a sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia — with a few oddities like cellulitis thrown in for variety. Sicknesses don’t strike me and go; they linger, dig in, build a nice home (sometimes an entire housing complex) and settle in for a good, long stay.

Which leads to today’s Catholic dilemma: December 8 is a Holy Day of Obligation, one of my favorites — the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It’s all about Mary being conceived without sin, being chosen from the get-go, a real “girl power” holy day. And I don’t feel well enough to attend mass.

Missing mass is a big deal. It’s a mortal sin. If you die in a state of mortal sin, it’s hot coals and pitchforks for you, buddy. No joke. But the church does allow for some exceptions — illness or care of a small child. But that doesn’t make the decision not to attend mass any easier.

Type “should I go to church when I’m sick?” into Google, then sit back and get ready for opinions. The answers are all over the map: “Go unless you are dying.” “Go, but sit in the back and don’t touch anyone.” “It is most charitable to stay home and not spread your illness.”

All of these viewpoints have merit. I do want to attend mass. It’s a powerful and healing ritual for me. But our church, rather than following the standard “altar at the front, then rows of pews” is rather more circular, with the pews nestled around the altar like an amphitheater. There is no “back corner,” really. People sit all over. It is not an easy place to isolate one’s self.

I don’t want to infect my pastor. I don’t want to infect my fellow parishioners, many of whom are elderly. I will never forget — much to my deep sorrow — exactly who it was that gave me pneumonia in 2014, or who insisted on passing on bronchitis to me last year. I attend church with them every week. Maybe for them it was a simple cold. But in me, already cursed with asthma and lungs scarred by previous bouts of pneumonia, every bug goes straight to my respiratory tract. What do you do when someone who has been hacking away all service long extends a hand to you at the kiss of peace?

But how can I reconcile not going to mass if I leave my house for any other purpose? I bought groceries last night. Otherwise, we would starve. But it took me out into the open, into the larger world. How was it okay to do that but not to go to mass tonight?

I am left feeling the weight of Catholic guilt (which, let me tell you, is immense) on top of my upper respiratory woes. I’m sinful and sneezy. Stuffed up and beat down.

I can only honor God to the best of my ability, which in this case will be at home, in private prayer and communion, along with hot lemonade and honey. Lord, accept me, mucous and all. I give myself to you. You won’t mind if I bring Kleenex, though, will you?

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This morning I awoke to the usual routine: my cat yawn-stretching his way off the bed and onto the rug so he could receive his morning back-scratching session.

For some reason, KitKat purred louder than I’ve ever heard him purr before, and this inspired me to sit on the floor and spend time with the Snore-Meister (one of his many nicknames.) Petting his soft fur made me feel warm and fuzzy, too. It was as if his purring had a liquid quality to it and it seemed to wash over me, making everything seem right with the world.

Then as I started the day and scanned the headlines, I came across this story about cat yoga at a rescue shelter, and I knew that it would be a great day. For some reason, this wave of joy stayed with me all day. It was as if I’d made a decision: no matter what happened, I remembered it was a designated great day. Done deal!

Without even realizing it, I was finding only articles that heal, soothe, or uplift. In the same way, I was finding only the good in everyone I encountered and everything I did.

I stayed in the “Good News” section of the headlines to keep myself in this positive frame of mind. For me, that would be stories with cute cats, or hard-luck tales with happy endings, like this one about an older gentleman in England who posted an ad looking for odd jobs, saying he was “dying from boredom!”

You might not even realize that something good is always happening somewhere if you go by the nightly news.

I ambled upon this good-newsflash: The World is Actually Becoming a More Peaceful Place. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker tells us, “The news is a systematically misleading way of viewing the world.”

Well-put!

The more we appreciate our blessings, the more blessings come to us.

Maybe they were always there, but we were too focused on problems to open our arms to embrace such grace.

Like this picture shows, sometimes, God tells you to stop and pet the cat!

candle-1841492_1920It’s hard to believe. Tomorrow is the second Sunday in Advent.  We’ll light the second candle in preparation for the coming of the Christ child.

But I’m just not feeling the joy of Christmas.  It doesn’t help that I’ve got a righteous head cold.  You’ll know me by the tissue box I tote everywhere I go.  I’m 98% certain that I got this particular virus from the lady who sat next to me at the funeral earlier in the week. One of my friends lost her not-quite 20 year-old son. He told his boss that he had a really bad headache and then . . . he was gone.

Yes, I’m doing my shopping.  In fact, I have the lion’s share done.  I’m knitting the lace scarf I need for the concert. Today I’m buying Christmas cards.

But I just don’t feel it.

And that’s okay.  This time of year can be tough for those who have recently lost someone. It can be hard for those who have a chronic illness (no, I’m not saying a head cold is a chronic illness) or those who are having money worries, marriage problems, or other hardships.

The thing we need to remember is that God welcomes us as we are. He knows our worries.  He knows our cares.  He doesn’t expect us to be anyone other than the flawed beings that we are, doing the best we can, feeling what we feel, and praying for a better tomorrow.

Yesterday, thanks to this cold, I was able to give myself two extra hours in bed and some time on the sofa with my knitting and the ever-present tissue box.  In the quiet, I sat in the pool of light in the family room, the rest of the house stretching out dark and quiet. I could hear the occasional click of my needles and the ping of the kettle on the burner in the kitchen. It felt like . . . a time of quiet, a time of waiting.

I may not be feeling the glitz and sparkle of Christmas, but I can still seek out a quiet corner for a bit of Advent. If I find the sparkle, great.  If I don’t, that’s okay too.  I can search for God and Christ in the quiet.

–SueBE

Being the last rat off the sinking ship
because it will give the other rats a chance to swim,
or because the ship, to its last gasp, is dear to you.
Not following the crowd, especially when the crowd
is wandering aimlessly and without a working compass,
moral or otherwise. Being a good Samaritan
when Samaritans are in short supply.
Choosing the careful answer when the witty one
is easier and could earn you a seat with the cool kids.
Praying not for things but for things to be as God wills them,
especially when you want something very bad or badly.
To listen without speaking, to accept without
exception, to create when others destroy.
Blessing the last word when it is not yours
and blessing the mouth you wish had not spoken
in language you wish you could unhear.
Appreciating puce, the ugliest of colors,
simply for being different.
Singing, loudly and often.
Hugging for no reason.
Saying yes, of course,
and no as needed.
Flying in dreams.
God-finding.

Anyone out there remember Pet Rocks? Cabbage Patch Dolls? Tamagotchi?

These are examples of things that seem to serve no purpose, yet became wildly popular.

On Black Friday, the makers of the game “Cards Against Humanity” announced that they were taking donations. They raised over $100,000. Just enough to… dig a big hole in the ground. Nothing more than that. They live-streamed the massive tractor scooping out dirt with the concise update, “Hole Got Dug.”

I’m torn between finding this hilarious and thinking, “If only these people could channel their energy into something worthwhile!”

That’s such a “Mom” thing to say, isn’t it?

But then again, something that seems worth doing to one person may seem pointless to someone else. Does an action need to produce something in order to seem meaningful?

Some things may just be entertaining or relaxing, like my classic movies, or my knitting. I can work on my round loom for hours with no hat or scarf in sight, and yet, I find the process itself to be the point. It’s calming. It’s creative. I do eventually end up with some knitted final product, but, just like that, I start on the next project.

There are plenty of things people enjoy that seem to have no purpose at all. Karaoke, the “Mannequin Challenge,” Pokemon Go. Lest we forget, we’re just about to enter the season of the ugly Christmas sweater.

Maybe the category for all of these things should be “Pick-me-ups.” Light, airy, fluff that doesn’t solve problems or change your life.

When I first heard of the concept of a “Flash Dance Mob,” I thought, that’s a lot of effort for no real reward, but now I see that it’s enough that it made somebody smile. This one, held at the Denver Airport, a “Swing Dance Flash Mob,” is a sweet diversion.

There’s been a feeling of heavy-ness in the world lately, with so many things creating an uproar. That can be hard for a soul to take in. It could be that a touch of fluff is just what we need to counteract the negative.  

church-1335474_1920Thanksgiving weekend.  We’ve all sated ourselves with turkey and potatoes or maybe your preference is stuffing.  There’re cranberries and green beans cooked several dozen different ways.  And pies.  Don’t forget the pies.  Frankly it’s all a little overwhelming.

Sounds a lot like life these days doesn’t it?  I hope you all managed a drama free turkey day.  Unfortunately, my son tried to create a sense of levity and . . . let’s just say my sister is tense and leave it at that.  But a lot of people are tense these days, worried about the next four years, worried about how their neighbors will handle the next four years, and worries about what tomorrow will bring. It can be tough to be grateful when the least little thing you say can make someone’s head spin around 360 degrees.

Things like this sure can make it hard to feel grateful even if it is Thanksgiving weekend. Fortunately, if we keep our eyes and ears open we will find the tools we need close at hand. God is, after all, paying attention to us even when we aren’t paying attention to him. He makes sure what we need is there.  We just need to look and listen.

In the Presbyterian church, we begin the service with a Call or responsive reading.  There are hymns, prayers, more readings, scripture and the sermon.  I am always amazed at how something in the service fulfills a need.

Last Sunday, the Call was based on Psalm 46.  Here are verses 1 – 3.

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah 

The liturgist read and we responded.  God is our refuge.  No fear.  Though mountains shake.  God is here.

If that Psalm had been written today, I imagine it would be somewhat different.  “God is our refuge and strength, our help now in our time of trouble.  Though politicians and their supporters scream and peck and tear, shout and insult, lie and fabricate. No matter how deeply we fear for tomorrow, God is stronger than all of this.”

Selah.

No matter what is going on, God is here.  Things may be in turmoil, but God is here. And he is mighty.

I read this and I took a deep breath.  That’s right. Me and my deep breathing.  What can I say?  Yoga has had an impact.  But this reading really calmed me.  In my mind’s eye, I had a sense of God’s power and presence, a deep rumble of might tempered with mercy.

God is here.  This doesn’t mean that the days ahead will be easy, but he is here.  This doesn’t mean we have no work ahead of us, but he is here.  It doesn’t even mean things will be easy, but he is here.  And if God is beside us, who can be against us?  (Romans 8:31)

Take comfort.  Give thanks.  We may be in the midst of turmoil, but God is here.  Give thanks!

–SueBE

Watching the news today, the anchor said, “This is the West Coast edition,” and it made the conspiracy-theorist in me take note.

What are they NOT telling us on the East Coast edition of the news?

Things they keep quiet?

Backroom deals? Unholy alliances?

Then I donned a disguise, contacted a secret source, and discovered the truth.

Now, I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.🙂

I jest, of course, kind people!

All of my usual absurdity is just to lead into a significant subject in the (hidden) news lately.

The importance of a free press.

President-elect Donald Trump made minor waves the other day when he ditched the press corps and quietly slipped out to a fancy restaurant for some red meat and private time.

This may not seem like a big deal. He’s just been through an epic battle to win the presidency. The man should be able to eat in peace. I get that.

Here’s the thing. The press is one of the checks and balances we count on as a democratic society. We need to be informed of the things the leader of the free world is doing, so it does matter that we know where he is.

CNN Reporter Brian Stelter summed it up neatly: “In an emergency, the journalists quickly relay information, helping the president and his aides inform and reassure Americans. This was vital on 9/11, for example.”

Now, the way it’s done in England is a vastly different approach.

The Prime Minister holds press conferences, but in addition, every Wednesday, Theresa May shows up in person and answers questions from members of Parliament during “Prime Minister’s Question Time.”  It’s not always substantive – each representative has their own agenda and often it becomes an ideological tug-of-war, but it’s so unusual to see a country’s leader speaking on the issues every week.

Maybe it’s time for an American version of this – “President’s Question Time?”

Just an idea. In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with checking random strangers’ Twitter feeds to find out what the new Prez is up to these days.

jesus-christ-904146_640Don’t get me wrong – I love Facebook memes.  My son and I send them to each other, post them on each other’s walls and laugh hysterically. Sometimes my husband reads over my shoulder and just gives me that look.  “Really?”

But today I saw a meme that set my teeth on edge. “Like if you want to put Jesus back in the White House.”  Judgy much?  Or, as Lori would say, I sense a sieve personality at work.  Okay.  Lori wouldn’t really say that.  She’s a lot nicer than I am.  But, really?  What short-sighted goof cake thinks they want Jesus in the White House?  He wasn’t even popular in the temple.

Presbyterian women worldwide are studying the various ways that people “see” Jesus.  How do they think of Him?  What do they call Him?  At my church, we take turns teaching.  I chose lesson 3, based on Luke because Luke was a historian.  He set the story of Jesus up in history, telling us who was the Roman emperor, who preceded Him (John the Baptist) and more.

When you say history, people think tradition, longevity, status quo.  But the Jesus that Luke told us about worked to topple that status quo.

Luke recounts Christ’s first sermon, delivered in the temple.  He read from Isaiah about God sending prophets to the downtrodden.  Then Christ said, “Today I am here to fulfill the prophecy.” Everyone was super-duper happy because they were under Roman occupation. They saw themselves as the downtrodden.  Christ must be here for them.  Woo-hoo!

But then Christ pointed out that God and His prophets had a history. Many prophets were rejected in their own communities. God sent them to outsiders – non-Jews. The crowd in the temple was much less happy with this part of Christ’s sermon. In fact, they marched Jesus to the top of a hill, ready to throw him off.

They thought that they wanted to hear what the Messiah had to say.  But they didn’t.  Not really.

I’m not sure we’d be a whole lot happier to hear what President Jesus would say. And I don’t mean the Republicans.  But I’m not talking about the Democrats either.  I mean all of us.

Please, God.  Keep Jesus out of the White House.  I just don’t think we’re ready for what He’d have to say.

–SueBE

There are two kinds of people. Wait, that’s not true! There are millions of kinds of people. But I’m going to talk today about two of them: bowls and sieves. “Sieve” people, like their kitchen counterparts, like to force others through their net of acceptance, straining out their faults and foibles, whereas “bowl” people tend to accept others exactly as they are, warts, pips, lumps and all.

My BFF since fifth grade is a “bowl” person. She adopts stray people (like me), accepting them wholeheartedly, despite their flaws. She is outgoing. I am introverted. I didn’t know until the seventh grade that you’re supposed to look people in the eyes when you talk to them — she taught me that. I just figured people knew when I was talking to them. She loves everyone — well, with one exception (in grade school): In her nightly prayers, she would ask God to bless “everybody in the whole, wide world…except Sister Judith” — though to be fair, Sister Judith had it coming. My friend is an open book, a walking hug.

I, on the other hand, tend to be a “sieve” person. I pick people apart. I strain against the bits of them that make me uncomfortable. I judge. It’s not that I want to be this way — quite the opposite — yet I find myself analyzing others, shying away when I notice an area of prickliness or strangeness or radical difference from myself. Which is wholly unfair — I’m no paragon. Far from it. I wouldn’t want to be friends with me. Yet I find myself thinking, “She would be so great if she weren’t so conservative.” Or, “How can I be friends with a cat-hater?”

I know other “sieves.” They reject potential life partners based on lack of a common religious background, though spirituality is fluid and can radically change over time. They swoop down in judgment against random comments on Facebook. They want people without pits, without tough outer rinds, without seeds. And that can make them very lonely.

I’m not sure whether “sieves” can become “bowls.” It may be inborn, or perhaps tied to certain types of learned behavior. But they can — with prayer and patience — learn how to loosen up. They can learn to let go of petty differences. They can widen their nets.

It requires taking a page out of Jesus’ book. Jesus is the ultimate “bowl,” loving sinner and saint equally, tax collector and apostle, leper and scholar. It doesn’t come easily. It takes constant presence and awareness and willingness to be a part of someone else’s journey, no matter where it takes you. Do it enough, and it can so radicalize a person as to make them prefer the folks with the most pits and pips, lumps and seeds.

I’m far from this lofty goal. Though my current best friend is a cat-hater. And I’m okay with that. So is she. There are bigger things to love about one another. We just had to find them.

This may seem apropos of nothing, but I’ve been spending time this week thinking about, well…. zombies.

I’ve got a theory. I think zombies are really just misunderstood. Don’t you? I mean, nobody asks to be undead. Do they? They always look like they’re in a bad mood, but maybe they’re just lactose intolerant. You may assume they’re coming to nosh on your neck, but who knows? Maybe they just ate some bad cheese.

It had to be this one: Gorgonzola. That has to be the official cheese of the apocalypse. It just sounds like the end of the world to me. Try it. Say it in a spooky voice: Gor-gon-ZOH-laaaa. Mwahaha.

Why, you may ask, am I writing about zombies on this, a blog about prayer? Well, it’s the only way I know to take my mind off things that I just can’t get my head around.

Things in life, generally.

Things in the news, specifically.

How about you? Heard any interesting news stories lately?

Anything grab your eye with that recent, oh, I don’t know, presidential election?

Hard as it is to imagine, zombies seem more light-hearted to me right now than what’s been going on in politics lately, so please indulge me.

I’m sure I’ll be back to my old self, soon, but in the meantime, do you know where most zombies live these days? Somewhere in New York between Hell’s Kitchen and Great Kills.

How disappointed were the zombies that got off a tour bus at the town of Braintree, anyway? Certainly false advertising. They may have grounds to sue!

There’s a town in Tennessee that zombies love that sums up everything going on lately. It’s name? Bitter End.

Despite the zombies and gorgonzola, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll wake up with the sun again tomorrow. We’ll find a way to work through what seems too much to bear right now. In the meantime, put your mind on something else – anything else, even zombies – till we find a way to make things better, together.

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