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“Love” is a troublesome word, as our pastor pointed out at Mass last Saturday. “I say I love God,” he said, “but I also say I love hotdogs.” It’s a problem that many have tried to remedy. In the movie Annie Hall, Alvy struggles to explain his feelings — he doesn’t just love Annie, he “luffs her with two f’s.” In our own circle, SueBE, Ruth and I have turned to the word “loave.” Sue started it; in an exhausted stupor after working on her latest book, she nearly typed the word “loave” rather than “love” in an e-mail to the other two of us. Ruth, of course (with her love of wordplay), seized on it immediately. It now liberally dots our e-mails to each other. I like it, the way it summons up yeasty, warm rounds of bread, fresh from the oven. To bake bread for another: That’s love. Is there a bigger word than “love”? No, but we’re working on it.

How wide a word can contain
the heights of hope and the terror of loss?
How can a mouth move sufficiently to utter
what is utter — the strange shift in my chest
when I attempt to grasp the totality of You?
It is light. Heat. Pressure. Pain. Loosed bounds.
Open air. Joy. It is a rising, quick and breathless.
It is grounded to the earth. Perhaps it is a word
we cannot say. Our lungs ought to be trumpets.
Instead we cram its meaning into too small a box.
It lacks capacity, much like our hearts.
And so, “love” suffices. (Can you hear the
wordless word, thrumming in my veins,
bounding, banging, bursting, breaking?
It will deafen me yet, I fear.)

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An Attitude of Gratitude.  That’s one of those phrases you see around.  Remember to keep your chin up.  See the positive.

I’m not going to lie.  It isn’t always easy to do.  I remember standing at the end of a storm ravaged dining fly on a troop campout.  One end had been literally flattened.  We lost a tent so I slept in the car.

But come morning the sun was shining.  The stove had not been damaged so there was coffee.  And the chuck boxes held a supply of doughnuts. I didn’t realize I was humming until one of the leaders commented on it.

Yeah, we had a wicked clean up ahead of us but no one had been hurt. Not to mention there was coffee, doughnuts, and sunshine.

I’m between jobs at the moment.  Not to worry.  That’s one of those things that happens when you freelance.  And God always provides a new opportunity.  Until that happens, I’m working on my graphic novel and researching agents.  I’m going to yoga, meeting friends to walk and learning to use my loom.

Life isn’t perfect.  We aren’t perfect.  But that’s okay.  There’s still plenty to be grateful for.

–SueBE

Today I watched a TED video on adaptability.  The speaker discussed a meeting between John Antioco, the CEO of Blockbuster, and Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix.  Hastings wanted to create a partnership to manage Antioco’s online business.  Antioco wasn’t interested because Blockbuster was making millions through their stores.  Now that Blockbuster is bankrupt and gone, I wonder if Antioco even remembers that meeting?

What does this have to do with prayer or faith?  How many of our faith communities are stuck with a mindset similar to Antioco’s?  We are so focused on managing our current membership that we can’t even contemplate the possibilities of meeting our new neighbors, neighbors who may not look like us or worship like us.  Their needs might be fairly different too as their kids struggle in school because they lack language or other foundation skills.

This doesn’t even touch on the fact that many churches and faith communities also completely ignore our online neighbors.  When I talk to people at church about PrayPower, many of them trout. That’s my son’s cheeky term for staring glassy-eyed and mouth agape.  An online community?  How can that be?

Christ was a rebel.  He ate with tax collectors.  Women were leaders.  And he took the word of God beyond the traditional community.

Thank you for being part of the PrayPower online Faith community!

–SueBE

What is it that God wants us to do?  The question applies equally to tricky situations and big life choices.  There are a variety of ways to determine the answer.

Pray.  That one seems kind of obvious but how often do we remember to do it?  Should I take this class or that class?  Is this promotion a good choice?  What about giving money to this man with a sign?

Discernment.  Do you belong to a prayer group?  If so, ask the group to pray for you.  Ask them to listen for guidance.  Perhaps they can hear a message you cannot.

Read Scripture.  Often the answers to the questions we ask can be found in scripture.  Listen for God.  Help your neighbor (which extends to the broken lying in the road). Encourage your fellows in Christ.

Pray Again.  Remember, there is more than one way to pray.  You can use a prayer you have memorized such as the Lord’s Prayer (Thy will be done) or the Prayer of St. Francis (Let me not be).  You can pray while you draw or even while you walk.  Trace a finger labyrinth.  Sing.

Listen.  I don’t know about you but often I get so busy telling God what I want him to do, that I forget to listen.  But prayer is a conversation and, as any good conversationalist will tell you, conversation requires not only that you speak but also that you listen.

The answer may not be immediate.  Wait is also an answer and sometimes it is the one we least want to hear.

–SueBE

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? It’s not just all in your head. Your experience is valid. Even if no one else shows up to support you, remember to show up for yourself.

Walk out of the room where negative notions gripped you. Keep walking until you find the room you’ve designated as Home Base. A grace-place where all is well, no matter what else is going on in the world. 

Search online for deep breathing techniques and calming music videos.

Watch a live stream from a cat cafe.

Breathe in through the nose. Out through the mouth. 

Remind yourself: You’re here, not there.

Be here, where that virtual cliff’s edge isn’t. Be where the worst that could happen, hasn’t.

Be in this breath. This breath is blessed.

Do something symbolic, like stretching toward the sky, reaching for the clouds. Light a candle. Watch old sitcoms. Go to Mayberry, or even Petticoat Junction. Everything’s okay there.

Talk to your own mind. Stay here. Don’t go down that dark alley that doesn’t really exist yet. In the peaceful place of yes, you may find the antidote to that no. Shelter in place until the looming doom passes. Keep the faith: The sun will rise again.

This morning, I woke up dehydrated and in pain. The first thought that occurred to me was, “I shouldn’t feel this way every day. There must be an answer to this!”

The answer in this case was to drink water. That’s the first thing to address. Lots and lots of water. Oranges are replenishing, as well. That’s the short-term answer to feeling dehydrated. Re-hydrating may seem obvious when you’re parched, but I had to take the problems separately, and also, not take them personally. Everybody’s got troubles. 

I’ve also been feeling unmoored, like I’m not really as connected as I’d like to be. Connected to what is unclear. To God? To a social group? To resources? All of the above, perhaps. Also to a meaningful project. A sense that I’m creating and building toward a goal.

But as I sat and thought about it, I’ve already started in that direction. I’ve been following through on my commitment to healthier eating and exercise. I’ve been writing every day. Trying to learn new things. Staying in a positive frame of mind. Granted, most of my energy goes toward finding creative ways to cover all the bills that are due each month. Figuring out how to access the infusions I need for my MS that cost a small fortune. This depletes my stores of energy and concentration, but I still keep going.

You may be in a similar situation. Feeling like you’re not moving forward. But don’t give up. You’re on the right track. Sometimes, you can’t even see the train because you’re on it.

Don’t lose hope when you realize there’s still so much to off-load. You’re carrying that cargo, sure, but you’re still moving through the countryside. Don’t lose heart. You’re almost to the next station.

What does it mean to be the body of Christ? Maybe it means that the goal of our spiritual journey is to become part of Christ, to do His work and will as one body. A body requires all of its parts to function harmoniously. It is not enough for the “stars of the show,” like the eyes, hands and feet, to operate. They cannot do so independently. Every part is needed — the toenails protect the toes, which enable the feet to balance the body, etc., etc.

There is no appendix in the body of Christ, no unnecessary wisdom teeth. We are all indispensable and important. Never sell yourself short. Never diminish your role in the salvation of the universe. It takes us all. It takes a body.

No part more precious than another,
a democracy of bones and sinew,
hallowed by purpose, divine by design.
The body of Christ stands, walks,
wields the world, shaping, smoothing
with an artist’s hands. The fate of us
resounds, ringing from the stapes
of the ear to the fifth metatarsal of toe,
reminding us: no hand, no heart
can stand alone. We breathe into being,
make possible in real blood, by prayer
and deed, God on this earth.

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Alex Trebek, long-time host of “Jeopardy” has pancreatic cancer. This is a devastating diagnosis. However, Mr. Trebek recently announced that he is in near remission, and credits this miraculous turn-about to the power of prayer.

Which is wonderful. I was one of the many people who prayed for him, after all. The only problem with stories like this is that they cause us to question the nature of miracles. In my lifetime, I’ve also prayed for many other people with cancer, including some who had the very same diagnosis as Mr. Trebek. They died anyway. Why didn’t my prayers elicit a miracle for them? Did I not pray enough? Or maybe it comes down to numbers: A celebrity like Alex Trebek is bound to get more prayers than someone like my father, a quiet Korean War vet and former farm boy from Wisconsin. But since when does God favor the popular crowd? It’s a conundrum.

It is not grace withheld,
nor grace deferred.
It is only this: The miracle
you held in your heart
changed shape, became
a color beyond the spectrum your
eye can see. It came as you bid.
That is an assurity. But:
it did not look familiar,
dressed as it was in the stuff
of your fears. Still.
It was perfect.
And you will know it —
or not — one day.

A young man knocked on my door today and said he was in the neighborhood “helping out” my neighbors. He mentioned specific names of neighbors whom he said had already signed up for his services.

I said I wasn’t interested. Closed the screen door, closed the inside door, locked the deadbolt, walked down the hall and realized he was still pitching his wares! I heard him talking to the closed door for a moment there.

Finally, he packed up his digital clipboard, got onto his segway and rolled to the next house. That’s a high-tech way to pester people, I must say.

I’m sure that none of my neighbors had signed up because we don’t want to encourage solicitation. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say, “Oh, Rene signed up? Let me call her to confirm what you’re telling me,” but I didn’t think of it until later.

What was he selling? Pest control, of course! Oh, the irony. Is there some kind of repellent for pest control salespeople?

Hmm. This has given me an idea for a new type of insurance: anti-solicitation coverage. If anyone shows up at your door to sell you something, the insurance company will give you money. Of course, you couldn’t sell this type of thing door-to-door!

People deserve better than to be sold a bill of goods, especially when you talk to them about what you believe. Helping a neighbor, holding a door for a stranger, offering a kind word — being neighborly is more effective than being a noodge. In faith and in fumigation, it’s better to be blessed than to be a pest.

I’ve been thinking about traditional values a lot. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the values that my grandparents taught me.

  1.  Work hard.  My grandfather graduated with a degree in mining engineering as many mines across the US were starting to play out.  Yes, he worked as a mining engineer but he also managed a gas station, custom painted cars and maintained the city parks.
  2. Get creative.  Because they kept chickens, my grandmother saved the print fabric feed bags.  She used the prettiest prints to make dresses for the girls.  She used the geometrics for the boys.  The rest became underwear.  That has never been lost on me.  She made their underwear.
  3. Be generous.  They didn’t have a lot but what they had, they shared.  There were never only 5 plates at the table for Sunday dinner.  Everyone who was there got a chair and a plate and there were always friends and neighbors present.
  4. Laugh.   My maternal grandparents loved to laugh.  Most of the photos I have of them include one if not both of them with a big grin.  Laughter is essential.
  5. Have Faith.  All four of my grandparents were faithful.  We prayed when times were hard.  We read scripture.  And we learned to give people the space for their own beliefs.  Granted, in my Protestant family, this often meant no more than giving people the space to be Catholic but I’ve chosen to apply this a bit more broadly.

Hard work. Creativity. Generosity. Laughter.  Faith.  These are the family values I experienced as a child.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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