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Well, it takes a lot to get a kindly Auntie-type to the brink of physical violence, but it does happen. Years ago, a contractor that I’d hired to re-tile my bathroom trudged into the house carrying his equipment and the new tile I’d picked out. I noticed that he had a lit cigarette in his mouth. “Oh, this is a non-smoking house. If you would, please put that out,” I told him. He did, and I left him to his work. Hours later, I poked my head into the bathroom to see how the job was going. “Just checking in,” I said. “How’s it go-” I stopped mid-sentence. He had lit another cigarette and was blithely puffing away. “Oops!” he said sheepishly. “You caught me!” His face said, Sorry, not sorry.

I was livid and read him the riot act, but by then it was too late. He had puffed that smoke right into the grout of the new tile. As a result, the bathroom smelled like smoke for the next two months, even after I’d opened the window every day to air it out.

To me, this man’s total disregard for my wishes was a metaphor. When you put negative energy – or in this case, smoke – into a project, the end result usually stinks.

In my experience, a positive attitude and respect for those around you will lead to a better outcome. And, most importantly, you won’t get socked in the shoulder by an industrial-strength handbag (for you younger folks, that’s a purse – usually ginormous in size to accommodate Early Bird leftovers.🍝) This has been a public service announcement by the generally-mellow, neighborly Nanas who live on a street near you. We’re kindly, sure. But don’t cross us! PS Don’t slouch.

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“We aren’t exchanging gifts this year.  We’re playing rob your neighbor so bring a gift anyone in the family would love.”

Cricket.

Cricket.

Cricket.

A hate shopping.  Hate it.  Really.  That said I’m actually pretty good at buying gifts for other people.  Of course, this means that I’m shopping for specific people.  My father-in-law loves history and works with wood, think Foxfire.  My mother-in-law is into classical music and elegant history, much more Biltmore than Foxfire.

Now try to come up with something any one of 20 or so people would love.  Let’s just say that the only thing my mother-in-law and son have in common is that they both like cats and love to eat.  This is mission impossible!

But then my son suggested buying a can of Flex Seal.  What?  I hadn’t thought of ridiculous made for TV products.  Serious gifts that everyone would love?  Not going to happen.  But the ridiculous?  This just might work.

It is far too easy to let someone’s request dampen our holiday joy.  It is up to us to rediscover God’s presence and the spirit of his grace that not even the thought of shopping can entirely eclipse.

–SueBE

 

 

Scrolling through one of my favorite sites, Katzenworld, I found an interesting article about feeding cats raw food. There was a picture of the recommended brand, along with the words, “Made with Human Meat.”

What the heck?

Nearly fell off the chair. Had to scroll back up quickly.

“Made with Human Grade Meat.”

Oh. That’s a relief!

For a minute I thought I’d taken a turn into the Twilight Zone, and stumbled into the Little Shop of Horrors!

One word can make all the difference sometimes.

In today’s political climate, you don’t have to agree with everybody you meet. Online, you don’t have to dignify mean-spirited comments about what you believe, or where you come from, or how you live. But sometimes, one word of kindness can change the conversation.

And if it doesn’t, you may come to the conclusion that this isn’t a conversation anyway, but a monologue. You can always – respectfully – unfollow people who bring drama into your feed. This is true in real life as well. There comes a time when you realize that people who were once your friends bring nothing but negatives into your world. It’s okay to let them go.

In many cases, this will happen by attrition as you refuse to get sucked into the vortex of either/or online. You’re one of us, or you’re one of them. Someday, the zeitgeist will change, and we’ll see each other as people again. Until that time, unplugging from the constant barrage of angst and anger will do your soul good. Here’s one word that will hold your heart together: peace.

Clue: “Kid with X-Box changes left for right and makes an appeal.” Answer: Prayer, of course! As anyone who loves cryptic (or British) crosswords knows, the solution is right there in front of you. In cryptics, part of the clue provides the answer; the rest consists of the mechanics to get there. In this case, a kid with an X-Box is a “player”; you then exchange the “l” (“left”) for “r” (“right”) to get “an appeal,” which is “prayer.”

But why am I bothering to explain this? Either you already love cryptics (and found the answer annoyingly easy) or you have developed an antipathy merely from reading the opening paragraph of this post. I am obsessed with them, often creating my own clues (see above) just for the fun of playing with language. But I wonder, why do I so adore these puzzles? They are frustrating, hilarious, stupid, wickedly difficult, unfair and deeply satisfying. They are like my mind.

They are also a link to my family. When I was very young, I’d hear, from my bedroom at night, my mother and my Aunt Beverly working cryptics in the living room. They’d shriek with laughter. I wanted in. So I taught myself how to do them (there are a finite number of ways to solve the clues, such as hidden words, anagrams, charades, double meanings, etc.). I have spent many a happy hour since then unraveling these puzzles with my mom (with my father often playing straight man and voice of reason) or alone.

Maybe that’s why I’m so comfortable with the many mysteries of faith. Jesus is both God and man? Sure, why not? The Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus? Stranger things have happened. Cryptic crosswords have opened my mind to the possibilities and seeming impossibilities of creation. I get why God made aardvarks and platypuses. I’ve never struggled with the lack of reason sometimes involved in spirituality. Because I believe the reason is there; it’s just hidden — cryptic, but present.

When I run into a problem with my faith, it does me good to remember my puzzles. I’ve often stared at a clue for hours before the answer clicks into place (“murder victim sounds qualified” had me stumped until I remembered our biblical friend Abel). Maybe faith is like that. Maybe our frustrations come not from a God who is inconsistent, but from our own inability to decipher his clues.

Because you gotta know that God is far more complicated than a crossword puzzle. But the joy of understanding God? A million times more rewarding than any puzzle could be.

 

First of all, destroy
anything that tells you
precisely what beautiful is.
Quit looking at women on TV
or on movie screens except
as some rare form of fauna,
unobtainable and therefore
non-aspirational. Wear only
what you like, what makes you
comfortable. Groom yourself
for your own approval. Look
people in the eye. Smile. If they
don’t smile back, don’t take it
personally. In fact, take nothing
personally. Get out of your head.
Live in the world, not in the confines
of your body. Notice. Learn. If you
want to know how you look, ask a
dog of whom you’re fond. He will be honest.
Otherwise, never think about yourself again,
except in terms of happiness and peace.
Don’t stew if you find you have neither.
Instead, collect good moments, until
you find enough to string together into
a lifetime. Eat whatever you want. Love fiercely.
In the end, wrecked, in bed, ready to slough off
life entirely, you will be beautiful. Radiant.
God will sigh at the sight of you. And you
will know what you were all along.

There’s a sketch on Sesame Street: Grover demonstrates the difference between near and far by running back and forth breathlessly until he collapses into a dramatic, Grover-ian heap. I don’t know why this sketch popped into my head; maybe it’s because I’ve been pondering the notion of God’s nearness…and far-ness. Turns out, it’s got me every bit as addled as poor, exhausted Grover.

Sometimes God seems very near — even uncomfortably near. At the best of times, this nearness is like a warm blanket of hope and reassurance. It can quite simply impart the ability to go on, especially during dark times. But sometimes, that same nearness makes me squirm as if I’m wearing an itchy wool sweater (or possibly an itchy wool straitjacket). God is calling me on the carpet. God is asking that I get real with myself and deal with a situation that I’d rather run from. God is near, and God knows me. There’s no place to hide.

Then there’s the feeling, sometimes quite pronounced, that God is far away. God has left me alone to suffer. God has not provided a solution to my troubles. I am lost and God is not showing me which way to turn. It’s all too much to bear by myself.

Maybe it’s because I struggle with nearness and far-ness in my physical being. I remember the first time I heard about people who prefer that others not invade “their space.” It was a revelation. It was normal, after all, to not want acquaintances to touch me or impinge on my “bubble.” Yet I also consider myself a “touchy-feely” type. If I like you, I will touch your arm as we talk. I will hug you every time I see you. I hold hands whenever I’m with someone I love especially much.

Whatever my personal hang-ups, I know that others struggle with God’s proximity every bit as much as I do. It seems none of us can get a handle on just where God is — in God’s heavens? Wherever two or more are gathered? Is Jesus the cuddly Good Shepherd or the guy who rowed out to sea or went into the desert just to get as far away as possible from the crowds?

Near. Far. God is both, sometimes at the same time. Prayer can draw God nearer. Our own fear can seem to drive God away. I suspect that God is where God always is, all the time — everywhere. We simply don’t realize how near everywhere can be.

I’ve just returned from a long car trip, a trip whose sole purpose seems to have been to remind me that I am old. Well, older, anyway. For instance, I remember how easy it was to genuflect when I was a child — a quick bob with one knee and right back up again. I was as bendable as new grass, as light as a reed, so thin my sister and I were not allowed to look into the windows of the local health club (out of sheer childish curiosity) because it offended those inside. How on earth, I used to think, can it be difficult to genuflect?

The words come back to haunt me as I use the pew to lever myself into and out of that once-effortless pose. It’s not so easy anymore.

It’s funny to imagine a God who is ageless. Wasn’t he my companion as a child, as a 20-something, navigating the newness of adulthood, and now an aging friend who provides a shoulder to lean on as necessary? Won’t God still be there as I totter into old age? And all the time, always, God is my friend, my compatriot, the pal I vent to when my shoulders ache and I realize that typing 100 words a minute was less a feat than a doorway to carpal tunnel. God grows old with me, yet is eternally young, ready to support the next new life and the next and the next.

My body announces itself
with pops and groans,
a one-woman band of
complaints and aggravations.
Ankle, knee, neck, feet.
Bones aren’t built to last.
They snap like chalk, crumble
to dust. My foot comes up,
senses a thousand ways to stumble.
Yet at my elbow, a light touch:
lifting. My foot comes down;
God gives me ground to stand on.
Each step’s a new wonder;
with practice, I’ll fly.

Credit: Elfie Hall

When my son was young, he asked me how to pronounce the name of a particular Egyptian pharaoh.

“Hatshepsut,” I said. “Friends called him Bill.”

He cracked up, so I had to keep going. “I mean, what else could they call him? Hat? Shep? Sut? Nah. Bill.”

Looking up the name on the computer later, I was mildly chagrined to learn that this ruler was actually a woman! Oh, blerg. Digging deeper, even that fact was in question, so I wasn’t too far off the mark after all.

History is fascinating – and often funny – isn’t it? And so is the future.

When the actor who played Steve on “Blue’s Clues” left the show, he seemed to have fallen off the face of the Earth. Today I read that  a newly-discovered aurora borealis has been given the unlikely moniker, “Steve.” Coincidence? Perhaps. Now, I’m not suggesting that this light formation is actually Steve Burns in deep disguise, but let’s just say, I’ve never seen them in the same room together. 🤔

It’s one of life’s great joys to be able to laugh about silly things and spin a yarn. But when it comes to forgiveness, we may find it hard to let go and laugh things off. It’s as important to forgive ourselves as to forgive others.

If Bill is the past and Steve is the future, we could look upon them both more kindly. We might feel the same way about ourselves as we look back with regret, or look ahead with uncertainty. That’s the yester-you, and she did her best at the time. And that’s the you-to-come. She’ll do her best as well.

Be good to yourself and it’s a breeze to be good to others. There’s a word for that, isn’t there? Oh, yeah. Love.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So begins the gospel of John…and the deepest roots of my spiritual connection to God. I have always loved words, loved what they could do with sound and meaning, loved them in their inadequacy and perfection. As a child, I was teased for my advanced vocabulary. “But that’s the right word for it,” I would think. “I could use a more common word, but it isn’t right.” From the beginning I knew that God was in both language and silence, that as flawed as words could be, they were a link to God — a beautiful and fragile link.

In The Little Prince, the fox tells our titular hero that when you tame something, it becomes yours forever. The same is true of naming things. That’s why I respond so warmly to John’s gospel-opener: God is, in my mind, the first named thing. In a world of small-w words, God is The Word.

Our words for God change and persist; they speak of power and authority. But God is also in the tiniest places, the humblest nest of the lowliest sparrow. God is in all words, from thunder to shame, eternity to crumb. Maybe that’s a compelling enough reason to use our words judiciously.

On the other hand, why not celebrate words? Why not lavish them luxuriously, paint a thick coat of them all over everything, dress up a tawdry world with silvery syllables? Isn’t that what poets and musicians do? Yeah! Don’t paint the town red; paint it God.

That’s what we try to do on this blog, at least in my eyes. We invoke God through God-as-Word. We praise God. We cry out to God. We participate in Godliness and ask our readers to do the same.

That’s a pretty sweet gig, from where I’m sitting.

This website detailing the spacecraft, Cassini’s, orbit around Saturn really fascinated me. So much time and effort went into the NASA mission, and the pictures are amazing. Now, I’m not a scientist – I just play one on television – so I tend to read technical articles like this from my own perspective.

Interesting Tidbit
Cassini lasted for twenty years in space before running out of fuel.

Cranky-Pants Observation
That means auto manufacturers here on Earth can darn well design a car that you don’t need to fill up with gas every week.

I Did Not Know This
Titan, a moon of Saturn, is covered in lakes of liquid methane.

Potential Cottage Industry
Ron Popeil may consider setting up a Nose-Plug Kiosk at Titan’s front door.

The probe has revealed much about Saturn, and the scientists reminded us, “Data from several instruments might reveal something completely unexpected.”

This is true of life’s trials, too, although it’s hard to see when we’re going through it.

One nugget of truth I learned the hard way is that people in pain just aren’t themselves. Dealing with physical pain or emotional issues can be wearing.

This is a long way to travel to make a point, but next time someone in your life is acting up and it’s out of character, remember: nobody lives in a Steady State all the time. Sometimes they experience a Big Bang of anger or depression. A little patience goes a long way, and there’s space enough for all of us.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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