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God is big. People are small. Not because we were made that way, but because it’s what we want. Think of the way God defines Godself to Moses — “I am who am.” God doesn’t even need a name. God simply is. And when Jesus addresses God in prayer, he chooses the word “Abwoon,” which is genderless. Jesus doesn’t use he or she, though he certainly could have. God always chooses the largest definition possible.

Now think about how we define ourselves (i.e., to death). We sort ourselves (by gender, sexual preference, age, name, hair color, skin color, ethnicity, religious affiliation, ability and lack thereof) into ever-smaller subsets of human being. It’s as if we aren’t special unless we are defined to within an inch of our lives. Why is that? Why can’t we be bigger?

Rest in your humanness, let it fit you
like a skin, the skin you know and breathe in.
Imagine for an instant that you are not alone.
Picture the possibilities of seeing yourself
in the eyes of everyone you meet.
What might it mean?
To see our home in ratty humanity,
common as an old quilt and just as comfy
is to see unbelievable opportunity.
If we knew for just one moment
how large we are together,
what could we not do?
We are called to greater seas.
Leave your puddle. Swim. Be one.

Everyone who learns my secret tells me how wonderfully calm I am. How gracious. How unruffled. Little do they know that I’ve spent my time more like the anagram of calm — the clam: roiling on the inside, turning worrying grit into a pearl of anxiety that I hold in my calmly closed mouth. Only a few, very select people know that my husband has tested positive for Covid-19 and that I am awaiting the results of my own test. Of all the possible effects this plague could have on me, I’ll admit “asymptomatic carrier” was not on my bingo card. Not with my asthma and faulty, scarred lung. Even more surprising would be to find out I’m negative, after living in the same close quarters with a positively sick person for two weeks. Stranger things have happened, though.

Only God knows how my fear is manifesting itself — through migraines the size of a Goodyear blimp. Fortunately, God also knows and hears my fervent, late-night prayers. I may be a calm clam on the outside, but God reads my insides like a book. Maybe that’s why I seem so calm?

My head is splitting,
threatening to spill
all the ugly things
I keep inside it:
fear oozing from its rind
like overripe cheese,
panic and its partner shock,
and behind them all the dizzying
dread of knowing how small I am,
how unready and unsteady I stand.
I could heave it all out of me,
this, that no one wants to see.
I needn’t. God dissects my being,
the most masterful surgeon,
baring my wormy innards and
blessing them with balm. I feel his hand
skillfully sewing, stitches so small
no eye can behold them. The scar
will be hidden. We alone will know it.
I whisper the words, private, prayerful.

woman in pink shirt sitting on chair“Any coughing, sneezing, diarrhea?” The woman asked as I rolled down my window.

At first, I thought my son had taken a wrong turn and driven us to the Worst Wendy’s in the World. 

Are these items… a la carte?

Should I respond, “No thanks, trying to cut down! Just a baked potato. Hold the mucus.”

But we were actually at the vet to drop off our cat, Squeaky, for his first well-visit. People aren’t allowed inside the vet’s office, so the procedure now is to pull into a parking spot, hand off your pet, and wait for them to call you with results.

It’s important to ask if anyone in the household is sick, but it would’ve been nice to be greeted with a “hello” first.

I think we can all relate to the harried, masked workers making their way through the day with uncertainty hanging in the very air around them.

Last month, a utility worker in a mask confronted me at my front door. “Step out of the house, please, ma’am.” I looked at him for a good, long time, like DeNiro. You talkin to me? You’re telling me to step out of my own house? I don’t think so. 

When I didn’t move or speak, he finally received the energy of my fixed gaze, and softened his tone. “Company policy, ma’am. We have to ask you this outside before we can come in.”

“Then say that, son,” I told him. He was actually nice, but was grappling with how to keep himself safe while doing his job. He’s got to put food on the table. If he gets sick, nobody eats.

One of the lessons I’ve learned during this pandemic is that people can somehow not be themselves for a protracted period of time. Trying to balance health, safety and financial security has had an impact on the human psyche.

So for the time being, if you find those on the frontline a bit curt, don’t take it to heart. Common courtesy may be uncommon these days, but cover your own karma. Keep the mask on your face and the forcefield of faith around your soul. This too shall pass.

I’ve been praying a lot lately. This year seems to necessitate it. So it made me wonder about the physics of prayer. As you can see, I have more questions than answers.

Where do prayers go?
Do they fly up (heavenward we presume),
light as smoke, hot as steam, invasive as air?
Or do they fall like pennies in a well,
clanging heavily to our own contrite feet?
Do they spread like infections, permeate
the walls of cells and shift us into changelings,
wrought new, wondrous — or press our carbon selves
into fledgling diamonds? Are they silent, a secret
message written in code, that God must dab with lemon
to reveal…or are they heard by saints and sinners,
by forebears and old foes (“look, she’s praying for that again;
I’ve seen this one in reruns, sis, it will never happen”)?
Do they twine like ivy, growing up and out, riotous, uncontained,
or cling, packed tightly, like lichen to a rock?
Do prayers pop on contact or linger long,
so we wade always through a fog of prayer,
a pea soup of petition, a swamp of want?
Or do our hallelujahs make neutral painful pleas,
an acid added to a base, water in a cup to drink
and bless us? Is prayer eternal as our God
or as fleeting as ourselves?
Perhaps it is like poetry:
The best of it remembered,
the rest, a moment’s fancy,
read by a single reader.

What should I do next?  Where would God have me go?  What job does he have for me?

Not surprisingly, Lori, Ruth and I have been suffering from the lack of direction many people are feeling right now.  We have felt for some that we should be doing something new, but what? We’ve all been looking for new jobs, passing tips on to each other.  I was either knitting or not-sleeping when I had a thought.  We should work on something new together.  

I didn’t share this with any one, waiting for more direction.  Then Ruth e-mailed Lori and I and said she felt like we should start a new project together.  That’s how discernment works.

Don’t know that term?  I didn’t either until I taught a class on prayer.  Discernment is a way to obtain God’s guidance and understanding.  It is one way that we can use to prayerful discover and recognize that we should be doing.  There are four elements to discernment.

Prayer and meditation

The first step is to ask God.  “What should I be doing?”  “How should I solve this problem?”  “What do you want me to to do?”  I don’t know about you but I may wonder what I should do but I don’t always remember to ask God.  So that’s step #1.  Face God and ask the question.

Listening for an answer

Once you’ve asked the question, you need to discern the answer which can come in many ways.  There’s the still, small voice we hear in our hearts.  We may find it in scripture in our dailing reading.  Or the sermon may touch on the subject we are contemplating.  My pastor calls moments like this God moments because God uses the various ways to communicate with us.  But these aren’t the only ways.

Community

Our faith communities also play a part in discernment.  If I’m not ready to hear something, it can be communicated to Ruth and Lori.  Not buying what I’m selling?  Think about those truths your friends bring to you.  After our Zoom call, Lori started calling me Professor.  That was my nickname when I was 13 and it has returned to me periodically my whole live.  I wouldn’t have given it to myself but there is truth there.

Patience

The last part of discernment is patience.  When we ask God a question we want the answer and we want it N-O-W.  But God doesn’t work that way.  Because of this, we have to be careful to hear God instead of opposing our will on the situation.

Ask, Listen and Commune in Patience until you perceive the will of God.  My pastor is teaching a course on discernment starting tomorrow.  I am truly looking forward to honing my skills.

–SueBE

silhouette of three people up on mountain cliffI loved Lori’s post about our confab the other day. It was so nice to see my sisters-of-the-soul, almost in person. Her characterization of me as a ballerina impersonating a longshoreman sent me into spasms of snorts (laughter, that is). I’ve been trying to come up with a word to combine those two terms. Balleshorman? Longshorina? Either way, it’s me all over! As we say in Jersey, not for nothin, but she’s on the money.

We’ve never met in person, so this call was truly an event. I could see SueBE as a professor in a college setting, as she just has a way about her that says, “Trust me. I know my stuff.” She’s warm and wise, and feels like family.

I could see Lori as a poet-in-residence at an idyllic lakeside writers’ retreat. She’s got a way about her that says, “I feel things deeply, and can put emotions to music till words dance on the page.” She’s refined and regal, and feels like family.

During the call, workmen were bumping around in my basement, tearing down walls and cleaning out the mess caused by a broken sewer pipe. I was concerned because they had asked me which walls to cut down, even though I had previously told their associate all of the details. What if they cut out the wrong wall? Threw away boxes of mementos inadvertently?

Then as we started chatting, my cat, Squeaky, climbed up onto the desk, and right into the camera shot. I loved that Lori and SueBE would get to meet him; however, I hadn’t taken my Benadryl to help with my cat allergy that morning. Before long, my face flushed and I felt the itching start. I didn’t want to pause the call, because it was such a momentous occasion, so I soldiered on through the allergic reaction.

It was so good to be together from afar, and even though I wasn’t fully myself, I felt like we were all present enough to create the foundation of our sacred space. A shared, virtual meeting room in which we talk about joy, grief, hope, the pandemic, politics, prayer. The stuff of life. I know that when any one of us isn’t able to be wholly present, the others will step up so we can shore each other up.

Dear readers, finding your sisters- (or brothers) of-the-soul is highly recommended for your mental health, for spiritual sustenance, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world with friends on the same frequency. You know they’ve got your back, and you’ve got theirs, whatever may come.

Yesterday I finally met SueBE and Ruth. Oh, we’ve known each other for years — eight, I think — and we’ve spoken on the phone and seen one another in photographs. But yesterday marked our first real meeting (if you count Zoom as real, which I do). Even before I’d friended SueBE on Facebook, I knew just how she’d be — the friendly face, the laugh, the slight Missouri drawl. She’s the super-smart sarcastic girl you want to be BFFs with in high school, only you’re a little afraid she would see right through your nonsense. Ruth was more surprising. Not because she doesn’t look like her picture; she does. It’s just that in all the years before I’d seen that picture, I’d imagined her as a brash brunette or zesty redhead, not a delicate blonde with cheekbones that could cut glass. Oh, she can turn on the “Jersey” if she wants to. It’s just a little like witnessing a ballerina impersonating a longshoreman.

Anyway, we talked a bit about how we’d gotten here; that is, how three such disparate points of light had managed to converge. And while I know very little about physics, I know this much: A higher hand was at work.

It takes a touch to turn
string theory into cat’s cradle,
to weave strands that by rights
should never warp or weft, that
(like a luckless pairing of disparate
dishes somehow combines to form a feast)
becomes a rope so finely turned and tasseled,
it could pull a weighted liner across a sea of stones.
We know the weaver; we’ve seen his work. Why, then,
wonder that such things occur? Yet if you read it in a book,
you’d frown at such blatant deus ex machinations. Let us
instead marvel at the weird we of us, of the variations that
make us sisters, at the deft impossibility that made us friends.

Harry Potter and his pals studied “Defense Against the Dark Arts.” And it’s a good thing they did! For us Muggles, perhaps a more salient field of inquiry would be “Defense Against Trolls.”

You know what trolls are. And if you don’t, a quick perusal of SueBE’s latest post will put you in-the-know. We all deal with trolls, whether on the internet or in real life. They come out of nowhere, ready to do anything to get your goat (so to speak). So when SueBE complained about her personal troll, I was ready with a full-throated Billy Goats Gruff counterattack: “No one bothers my friends! Get out of the way, Troll, before I ram you right off this bridge!”

I do this without thinking. As my friend Susan recently said to me, “You are always, always on my side.” That’s my impulse, to fly to the defense of anyone I love. But is it the most effective means of dispatching trolls?

Trolls don’t respond to logic. You can’t argue with them. Neither do they respond to loving gestures — because they don’t truly understand love. They understand control: If they can control you, all is well. But if they can’t…here they come crawling from under the bridge looking for a fight!

God calls us to love one another. But God does not call us to surrender who we are (our safety, our conscience) to any living person, troll or otherwise. Perhaps the best defense against trolls is to avoid them altogether. With no one to pick on, what are they, really? Just sad creatures who live in the dark.

And if you can’t avoid them? May I suggest always traveling with companions? SueBE and Ruthie are my die-hard backups. They’ve always got me, and I will always have them. I wasn’t born a Capricorn (sign of the goat!) for nothing.

When crossing bridges and other shaky places,
you needn’t walk alone.
Look for your sort. You will know them
by sight and by soul.
Once you have their hands and hearts,
hold on. Consign your strength
to their care. No one need deter you.
Clip-clop where you will.
It is not by hoof and horn you will succeed,
but in turning to your herd, to the warm, soft wooliness
of kin and kith and kind.

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