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If I had to analyze my spiritual journey, I’m afraid it would look like a jagged series of hills and valleys — up and down, up and down. There are probably times when I even go backwards. The road to self-knowledge, to goodness and to God is hardly a straight line. Even saints take circuitous routes (just look at Augustine, a self-proclaimed sinner supreme who turned it around…eventually).

How do we chart our progress? Through actions? Prayer? Some sort of peaceful inner feeling? Only God knows for sure.

Time on the road has been fraught.
I struggle with a lack of maps
and too many mysterious signposts
for one weary wanderer to divine.
You’ve sent me, I see, on the slow course;
baptism bought me no bridges. But —
I catch sight of you often. There,
you peer at me through a sunset;
I sight you in the looped letters
of my own name on an envelope.
Again and again, you elude me,
a child playing hide and seek.
Why can I not keep up with you?
You ought to be less spry
after all these millennia.
Still, I plod. Put one foot down,
and then another, testing for
quicksand, for precipitous drops.
Knowing the way will be arduous,
but ending in green fields, rest,
and radiant reunion.

Image result for british tea kettleOne of my go-to “happy place” programs is the Great British Baking Show (the original version, with Mary, Paul, Sue and Mel). Now, mind you, I’m not much of a baker, but I love to eat a nice scone in the kitchen while watching this show. Does that count as baking? I mean, I am sitting next to the stove, which I use often…to…uh…light candles 🕯 and such. 🙂 I’ll have to check my unimpeachable yet unidentified sources on Google Search and the Dark Web, but I believe that watching this show counts as surrogate baking. 

Often, I’ve had to look up British terms used on the show, such as “scrummy” (it means “scrumptious”) and “Bob’s your uncle” (that’s “you’re all set”), but the culinary creations and genteel charm of the show have won me over. It seems so civilized as the bakers compete politely to impress the judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (incredibly, his real name). Even the judges’ criticism seems less caustic than you’d see on an American cooking competition. After I watch the show, I find that I walk around calling my son and his friends “guv’nah” and using big words erroneously and randomly. Am I being subliminally influenced? Indubitably.😉

The bakers’ “soggy bottoms” are scrutinized scrupulously (that’s the underside of their cakes, not the bakers), and it’s actually the ultimate compliment when judge Paul says of one of the bakers (some of whom are lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc.), “Scientist? No. That guy’s a baker.”

Watching this pleasant show is how I take a break when life gets hectic. I put the kettle on, have a warm cuppa, and escape to a kinder, gentler world. You can’t take care of others if you’re running on fumes and faith alone, so put your own well-being at the top of your to-do list today.

Radiant with faith, they arrived on my doorstep. Something, they said, had brought them here. We talked for a while about faith practices, about the search for God, and they left me with their literature, which I perused. And I considered. Most of it was a history, and as most histories are, fraught with conflict. But not all of it. There, scattered, were the jewels of most religions: ideas like forgiveness, mercy, justice, love.

If we could visualize a giant Venn diagram of all religious practices, the overlapping places — the places we converge — give us our best and most direct look at what and who God really is. The rest — the places we differ — are just housekeeping. Potato, po-tah-to. If only we could concentrate on what we have in common, rather than what keeps us apart, we would be the better (and dare I say, holier) for it.

Eradicate the pageantry.
Strip the faith down to its bones.
Lay it open as an autopsy,
as brutal and as frank: look.
There among the many threads
we’ve woven into coats (the coats
that mark us one from another)
is a single strand. It is red
with heart’s blood; it is white
with hope, pink with raw forgiveness.
Grasp it in your hand. It will lead
you out of the labyrinth of rancor.
Silence will visit you there, and
you will see what you are meant to see:
It was all set up ahead of time.
There was no mystery,
only abundant clues.

Last week, my husband sent me a real estate ad.  A series of ranches are on the market in Brewster County, my dad’s home county in West Texas.  I clicked through and looked at videos and longed for the high desert.  Then a comment from my mother-in-law popped up.

“You’d need a really big mower.”

They call them cows, Judy.  That was my first cheeky response.  I told her to look at the photos. This is high desert.  No mower needed but, and this would be so cool!, I could have a mesa.  She responded.  “I think if you could afford that ranch you could afford someone else to mow.”

As my grandmother would have said, God Bless her pointy little head.  My mother-in-law grew up in Kentucky.  I don’t know that she’s ever been to God’s country, the high desert of West Texas.  So I explained again that it is a desert. No mower needed unless you make it so.

Conversations like this make me realize how miraculous it is when we manage to understand someone from a completely different culture. After all, my mother-in-law and I are both Americans.  But she doesn’t get high desert.  Either there are cows and the land is covered by lush grass or it is desert, a desolate land where nothing grows.

But then again I was just as clueless the first time I was in Kentucky, specifically in the bluegrass where thoroughbreds graze and frolic.  “That’s strange.  All of the houses look alike,” I said as we drove by yet another long one-story structure.  “Hon, that’s a stable.”  What horses in Kentucky don’t shelter in barns?  Nope.  You dry tobacco in barns.

The world is an amazingly varied place. Even when you and someone else seem to be speaking the same language, you are coming at the conversation from different experiences.  When you don’t speak the same language, the effort needed is even greater but think of all the amazing things you might learn about how other people live.

–SueBE

 

Sophia Grace LeBlanc is recognized for her heroism by Premier Stephen McNeil at a Medal of Bravery Award ceremony. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Congratulations! You’ve won an award. For your efforts, you’ll receive:

  • A pat on the back
  • A piece of paper, and,
  • An uncomfortably close, cringe-worthy photo op with an elected official you’ve never met before!

Did I mention that the “you” in question is six years old? Sophia Grace LeBlanc, who bravely climbed from the wreckage of her family’s crashed car to get help for her injured mother and siblings, received an award for heroism. When she learned that the “award” was just a piece of paper, she spoke her mind.

“I thought because I was so brave, I thought I would get something a little better,” said Sophia.

She had done a wonderful, brave thing, and probably would have liked to receive some toys, or to be taken out for pizza with her friends. A piece of paper? A hug from some random (presumably unintentionally) handsy man? No thanks!

When do we unlearn honesty? Should kids be taught to be quiet, be polite, and tolerate the strange man huddling in for a cuddle? Is it rude to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Setting boundaries is humane. That way, the person who is offending you won’t have to apologize later, and will be educated since they didn’t know they were crossing a line.

Saying what you mean is compassionate. That way, everyone knows where you stand and eventually, the people around you will re-calibrate and reciprocate.

Saying it right at the moment of impact, when someone commits an infraction, is an act of kindness in every direction. That way, you won’t have to bear the weight of that grudge you would have been holding, and your relationships will become more meaningful.

During last Sunday’s service, the pastor discussed Peter’s vision of a sheet descending from heaven (Acts 10: 9 – 16).

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.  He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance.  He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners.  In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.  Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”  The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”

As explained by Pastor Sean, this passage is so much more than permission to lift Jewish dietary restrictions.  It is a call to change. Not only did Peter change what he ate, he took the Word to the Gentiles, a people previously unreached by God.

This vision was an instruction to take the church and make it something new.

For Peter, that meant moving among the Gentiles.  Since most of us are Gentiles, it has to mean something different today. Personally, I think it is a call to change how we move throughout the world.  Previously, Christianity was a tool of conquest.  Come, believe, and we will shape you after our image.

Instead, we need to get to know people.  See them.  Listen to them.  Ask questions.  It isn’t like I’m inventing this.  It is taken from Christ’s own experience.

As he walked the roads.

As he sat in the gardens.

As he ate among the people.

He saw them, heard them, and healed them.

–SueBE

 

Some people dive into life head-first. Others hang back and just dip their toes in the water. I’m trying something new: forging ahead heart-first, the way Mary, Jesus’ mother, did. She could not have known or been ready for what life threw at her — teen pregnancy, raising the Son of God, watching that beloved son die on a cross — but she moved through it, keeping “all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) She could only feel her way forward by trusting in her faith and love.

If life is handing you unfathomable circumstances, mysteries you just can’t unravel, that’s okay. Trust your heart, rather than your head, and take the next step.

When all your soul is cloaked
in darkness as thick as the pelt of a bear
and as unyielding to the touch,
crack open the delicate shell of your heart,
allow it to illuminate what it can.
As for the rest, there is only faith
which of course moves mountains,
but rubble, too, the pebble in your shoe,
the slippery sand sliding underfoot.
The heart touches trouble in all the right places,
moves the wound, stanches the bleeding,
keeps the dike from cracking as we pass,
not with understanding perhaps, but with
the eye of the heart, which witnesses
but does not judge. Understanding will come,
in this or other lives, slowly or like a fist;
it doesn’t matter now. For now, let love lead.

Scrolling through news headlines this morning on my phone, I clicked on an advice column that I enjoy and was surprised by the picture I saw. Normally, you can see the columnist’s face and upper torso in the picture, but today, due to a technical glitch, all you can see is her shoulder. 

This made me laugh. Why, this could be a cottage industry for her — an advice column about burdens we all must shoulder. “Talk to the shoulder!” could become a catch phrase. Her new book could be titled: “How to Carry the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders (and Get a Great Upper Body Work-out in the Process)”!

Because we can’t always see the bigger picture in life, sometimes the things we pray for really wouldn’t be good for us. Most of us have prayed for money, sometimes even a lottery win, but being filthy rich wouldn’t make you happier; it would make life harder. More taxes to pay. More “new friends” coming around asking for a piece of the pie. 

And that relationship you prayed would be “the one,” but wasn’t? If you have to compromise, accommodate and put yourself on the back burner, that wasn’t a relationship anyway, but a prison term. Why pray for what doesn’t serve you? 

While we see only a portion of it, God sees the whole picture. If he can hold up the whole world, you can rest assured, he’s got a shoulder for you to lean on, too. In the meantime, do what you can to improve your life. Surround yourself with positive people. Do your best at the work you do. Stay healthy and active — and try a few shoulder rolls to stay limber.😊

Not that I was Rasputin or anything, but I have to say that I was someone else prior to losing the vision in my right eye. Looking back, I did a lot of…looking back. I could make myself feel guilty about a mistake I’d made decades earlier. 

Even in the car, I found myself looking back, keeping that eye trained nervously on the rearview mirror. God had to get my attention somehow, I suppose, and decided to poke me in the eye with a sharp stick. A surgery meant to correct a macular hole ended up leaving me without vision in that eye. In a way, it was a metaphor for the larger theme in my life up to that point: You can’t drive your car down the road in reverse.

If I could have full vision again, I would do it in a minute, but having visual impairments has been — wait for it — eye-opening. For one thing, I’ve learned that the world was designed for the elusive “normal” person: someone with perfect vision, hearing and speech capabilities, no medical issues and a perfectly balanced psyche. 

There are various “disability” communities, and each has its own lexicon. In the autism community, for instance, those without autism are called “neuro-typicals.” 

But even within those communities, there are differing points of view. For example, in the Deaf community, for some, a cochlear implant is a godsend. Others take exception to the idea that they need to be “fixed” and refuse the procedure. 

Just as I used to drive down the road worrying about how close the cars behind me were, I also spent time on what-ifs and why-mes that didn’t change my situation. When I got out of that roundabout of regret and let Providence take the wheel, the ride became a lot easier. 

Nobody knows they’re a noodge, do they? I didn’t realize I was one myself until one day when my son was fixing his bed frame and I stopped in to offer “encouragement.” I’d say, “What if you tried it this way?” He’d say, “That won’t work, Mom.” I’d offer, “Do you need a wrench for that?” Finally he said politely but firmly, “That’s not helping. Please stop now.”

My version of “help” was really not helping. Sometimes when you don’t know how to fix an issue, you flutter about, making it even worse. Maybe that’s what’s going on with negative emotions that just won’t let up. 

That nagging voice in our heads that we call guilt really doesn’t see itself that way. In fact, it regards itself more as a quilt, seeking only to cover you with a patchwork of memories so you don’t make the same mistakes again. 

And fear is really a deer, lost in the woods, trying to find its way home. It doesn’t want to harm you; it’s just trying to navigate the unknown alone.

God embedded us with these emotions, so there must be a reason for them. Maybe it’s just to learn that our feelings — and in fact, most of the people in our lives — are trying their best. 

So, I know I’m a noodge at times, but I’m learning to scale back my fluttering and s/mothering of those I care about. Harping isn’t helping. Someday, I’ll be a former noodge. Maybe I’ll do a PSA to help others to deal with people like me. It might even help you as you deal with all those misguided emotions that hassle you relentlessly. Be patient with them, but be direct when need be, as my son was with me. “Move along, now,” you can tell them. “I’ve got this.”

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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