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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.

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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.

So there I was, watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” yet again — as I have nearly every Christmas season except for that of its premiere (I wasn’t born yet), when it occurred to me (as it always does) that there are some serious flaws in the storytelling…most glaringly, with the subplot about the Island of Misfit Toys. (Whew! That was a long sentence. Take a breather, readers.)

The “misfits” on this island range from the slightly offbeat — a train with square wheels, by no means unfixable — to the ludicrous — a polka-dotted stuffed elephant (so what? I had a purple plaid stuffed dog). But what always got me, doll-lover that I was as a child, was the little ragdoll. Seriously, what was so wrong about her? She was adorable! She could say, “How do you do?” Why in the heck was she stuck on this island?

Okay, I realize I’m taking a children’s animated show a bit too much to heart. But isn’t that what children do? On the plus side, maybe it was repeat showings of this Rankin/Bass classic that caused me to side with the underdogs, the folks on the outside margins, to begin with. I still do, perhaps because it’s where I see myself.

Only here’s the thing: God doesn’t make misfits. In God’s great plan, there is a “fit” for everyone. It may take awhile to find it, of course. But it’s out there. I doubt my first grade classmates knew what to do with a girl who was already reading at a fourth grade level (at least — the test only went up that high), who made up rhymes instead of playing tag, who had (I kid you not) an invisible “thinking cap” that she mimed putting on before spelling bees.

It took a long while to find “my people.” But find them I did. Some of us are odd ducks (or geese or elephants), while some of us are simply extraordinary. I know some pretty terrific folks — SueBe and Ruthie, for two. My friend Susan is the most thoughtful person on earth. My friend Maria lives a life of quiet but radical spirituality. Caroline — who I have known since first grade — combines brash good humor with erudition…and has never, ever treated me like a misfit.

So for all you “misfits” out there, take heart. There is a slot out there for your distinctly shaped peg. And there are other people, too, who will embrace your particular brand of different. Because, like the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys, you are not wrong…only wonderful, in a way all your own.

Photo by Marc-Antoine Dépelteau on Unsplash

The headline said that the Pope was going to Latin America to “Build Brides.” Thought it meant he was going there to recruit nuns. Interesting. Wonder how they do that. Not to be sacrilegious, but do they have a holy headhunter there, and interviews? Maybe there’s a signing bonus. Sipped my coffee. Paused a moment.

Huh?

I read it again.

“Build Bridges.”

Oh.

That makes more sense.

I’d read it wrong and built an erroneous narrative.

And I thought… do I do that with people too?

Read them wrong, that is. As we all do, I make assumptions based on next to nothing.

I’ll form an opinion based on:

  • Someone I used to know who looked like that
  • The way they pronounce “often” – I prefer silent “T”
  • They’re wearing a choker and I hate stuff tight around my neck
  • Their apparent age in relation to my age

There’s a reason some in our age group emphasize and stretch out the word this way: Millennnnniiiiiallllls… It comes from ambivalence about aging.

The hardest life lesson to learn is that you don’t get higher on the happiness scale by popping someone else’s balloon.

Put-downs don’t lift you up. In fact, they make you appear smaller than you really are.

Come to think of it, we could use a bridge here and there. Between Millennials and older folks. Between people of different religions and political persuasions. Between people with good intentions and those throwing stones because they feel they’re not being heard.

What do you say we build a bridge and meet in the middle?

When I was a kid, time passed slowly. A single day at school — a single math class! — could drag on into eternity. Sure, some things went too quickly — Christmas, summer. But for the most part, time was inexorable: When would I finally be done with school? When would I be a grownup? For Pete’s sake, what is taking so long?

Nowadays, time flies by me in panic-inducing rushes. How is it Thursday already? What happened to October? Wait — what do you mean your little boy is a college graduate? Wasn’t he a baby last week? If I could just reach out and stop time for a minute, just a minute…!

It’s enough to give a girl vertigo. (Or, in this case, a middle-aged woman. But wasn’t I a girl just yesterday?)

A strange old woman
haunts my mirror. I do not know her.
A thief has stolen thirty years of my life.
His crime goes unpunished.
God gave me a bag of time;
I just now noticed it has been leaking.
What to do to stanch the hemorrhage?
Make a mindful moment. And another.
String them like beads. Feel them
with your fingers. Then let go.
God will catch the train as it leaps from the trestle.
On that day, there will finally be enough time.

Every time a mass shooting occurs, The Onion runs the same headline: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” And every time a mass shooting occurs, Facebook explodes with opinions from both sides of the gun control debate. Because apparently some people are perfectly content living in a country where they and their children are 20 times more likely to die by gun violence than in any other civilized country on the map.

There are no arguments. Not anymore. Don’t tell me “guns don’t kill people; people do.” Yes. People with guns. Do you not get that? Don’t explain patiently that the killers on 9/11 didn’t use guns. I know that. And we immediately did something about it — we changed the way we fly; we put people on lists; we went to war (with the wrong country, but whatever). But there’s nothing we can do about guns? Fine then. What’s the other near-constant in gun violence? White guys. Shall we legislate against them? Oh wait. They’re the ones in charge of absolutely everything.

Well, I’m done arguing. Your right to own an object does not supersede my right to live.

In better, calmer times, I wrote the following (as Ruth recently reminded me). I’ve decided that it will be my version of The Onion article. Get used to seeing it, folks. Because we may worship God here in America, but guns — ah! Those are our real deity.

It was a week
to shake the faith
right out of our bones.

But faith cannot fall
to such a small god:
a god of bombs, bullets, ripped limbs.

Seek God elsewhere.
He is there in the helpers.
In solace, yes, and mourning, too.
In healing hands, in hope.

Look to those who know the truth:
What is not love
cannot be God.

Hate destroys.
Love restores.
There is your answer.

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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