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Was there ever a time when “poet” was a legitimate job description? Maybe, centuries ago, you could get a gig as a court poet, or have a de Medici support you as a contribution to the arts. Sadly, today, the de Medicis among us have very little use for poetry. It is a gift, but not a commodity. And spiritual poetry, alas, with its propensity to probe and question, comfort yet cause unease, is relegated to the bottom of the artistic heap. This can disheartening, yet I can’t stop an intense desire to live within the world of words (however imperfectly I receive them) that God supplies so temptingly and freely.

I ask for tongues of fire:
ashes appear.
Underneath there is heat,
seething, sufficient
to melt me to the bone.
If I could bury myself in poetry,
I might burn righteously,
pure as glass, pious as
a Lutheran steeple.
But poetry is no place to live,
even for church mice.
No one subsists on words,
even if they roll off the tongue
like buttered toffee.
I must be content
to live in the world of man.
Secretly, however, I burn.

 

 

Well, I woke up this morning feeling tight. My son and I have been dealing with a problem, and it’s the same problem we’ve had for years. It left me with the feeling that we’ve been running in place. Getting nowhere. But something happened as I stewed. I scrolled through posts from my spiritual support team, and it felt as if a weight was lifted.

Lori’s prayer-poems take my breath away, and then I find I’m breathing easier. SueBE can really tell a story from the heart, and then I find it’s got me thinking. We’ve gotten through some things, like this poignant remembrance of Lori’s first Christmas without her father. And SueBE’s inspiring post about the loss of her friend, and how it reminded her of losing her mother.

We’ve lived through some things individually and collectively. We got through, and got each other through.

We’re all still here, writing this blog that started as a reaction to the ending of a writing gig that was wonderful/awful. Well, a lot like life – it wasn’t what we thought it would be, but we got each other out of it.

The best way I can do anything positive for my son is to be content myself. To do the things that make me happy. To create a warm, welcoming home. So when I get up, I look up. When I get dressed, I remember I’m blessed.

If I could, I’d like to solve all my son’s problems. I’ll settle for not causing him problems with my constant reminders to him that this problem needs solving.

I’d like life to be laid out in front of him, and all the right choices to be glaringly obvious. I’ll settle for: I’ve raised him the best I know how/I trust he’s got the know-how to find his own way.

I’d like to be wise, but I’ll settle for blessed.

Just as I’m grateful for faraway friends who are close to my heart. Just like God’s grace. I didn’t earn it, but in quiet moments of repose, it restores my soul and keeps me going.

Life is hard. There’s no denying it. But during this Easter season, we are reminded that there is proof of the resurrection all around us.

Fact:
Friends will betray you
they will dine beside you
then sell you out for silver.
The road will always be uphill
and the load will nearly break you.
(Others can ease it, briefly,
but they cannot die for you.)
You will taste sweat, blood, bitter
liquid; your body will snap, sag,
breach and be broken. You will die,
ultimately, alone.

Fortunately, friend,
One has gone before
holding hope in his hands like a loaf of bread.
Even as you close your eyes
to all of this, you will open them again.
Like an Easter lily, you will wear white.
Like Easter morning, you will be born.

There is a very real phenomenon called “Jerusalem Syndrome”: Someone visits the Holy Land and experiences a psychotic break, fraught with religious obsession. Obviously, this isn’t something one would wish on anyone, but it illustrates rather vividly how some places can overwhelm us with their deep spiritual “footprints.” Some places simply seem more touched by God than others. I was in one of these places last weekend, and it provoked a poetic response:

There are places God has glanced
with lightest touch of hand, some swept,
palm to earth, and some in which God’s hand
sinks into soil like a sculptor’s hand in clay, that shout,
“Here I’ve sent saints; look the proof is all around you.”
And the heart stills, stops, halts — no, you are not
on the moon; the ground grasses green, sky pulses blue,
the smell of the place is ancient but known. And yet.
The silence is deeper, divine, the air crowded with
exemplary souls, and you want to join them —
shrug off your body like an old coat and disappear
into ether. Pierced to the root, overcome by a sun
that seems more heavenward than most, you
fill your lungs with quavering promise and slide
between worlds as easy as a body entering water.
If you could only stay, you would be saved.

My son is eighteen-years-old, and, as you can imagine, I’m keeping him covered in prayer. At the same time, I’m trying to keep my distance.

After all, he knows how to navigate the world, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. I have to remember that I’ve raised him to the best of my ability, and now the rest is up to him.

Still, occasionally, if my prayers were read aloud, they would sound frantic. Because sometimes, that’s just how I feel.

He’s going to college. He’s got a steady girlfriend. He’s driving on New Jersey’s busy highways.

The other day, I prayed anxiously. I’d been thinking of all the things I hoped for him in his life, and felt tight. At the end of the prayer, I spoke to myself, just as if in conversation with a friend, trying to understand why I felt so unsettled.

I hope he does well.
I trust God knows what he’s doing.
I believe it all works out in the end.

Breathing in and out a few times slowly, I went into my sunroom and sat in the spot on the couch bathed in soft light rays. Just as my cat might do, basking and being. Just being.

There was a subtle shift in my soul and I exhaled, speaking out loud the words I had just said, only this time, I changed the punctuation slightly. When I put the emphasis back on Providence instead of on the problem, a wave of of peace washed over me.

I hope. He does well.
I trust. God knows what he’s doing.
I believe. It all works out in the end.

“What if you woke up and the only things that remained were the things you gave thanks for yesterday?” This is something I read on Twitter recently, by a site called Amazing Grace.

Staying in a state of grace is putting God back in charge. You know. Where he was all along. It’s okay to let go of things you really can’t control anyway. Just a gentle reminder from someone who’s been there.

There’s a commercial making the rounds (for an investment firm, I believe) that asks, “How do you measure success?” The point being, you ought to be saving for your retirement so that you can do bucket list-y things like climb rocks or volunteer teach. But there is a finer point to be discussed: What makes a life successful?

Is it the accumulation of money or things? As nice as things can be, they cannot be taken with you after you shuffle off this mortal coil. (Unless you’re a pharaoh, and even then, tomb robbing can really put a dent in your feline sarcophagi collection.) People talk about “successful businessmen.” I assume they mean a person who has made more than he’s lost. But often that’s not really the case. The “successful businessman” has often accomplished his feats through financial manipulation, the sweat of other people’s brows, or outright chicanery. That doesn’t spell “success” to me. More like “not caught in the act and appropriately punished.”

So what is success? I posit to you that it means being a good person. Specifically, if you were to die tomorrow, could others remember one good deed you did? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Start digging and see what you come up with: “I loved my parents” (except when you didn’t); “I gave to charity” (sometimes, and maybe only for the tax break); “I cared about the environment” (unless you’re that one young woman who hasn’t created any garbage in three years — and you’re an American — you probably flunk this one outright); “I wasn’t actively hurtful to people” (congratulations, you’ve lived up to the minimum requirement for morality). The list, disappointingly, goes on.

I don’t say these things to make you feel bad, Unspecified Reader. I put myself through this test and came up with a review not much to my liking. Most of us have not done one shining, unselfish deed in our whole lives. Mostly we do good because it makes us feel good. But is that enough?

Is it enough to require of ourselves that we more often do right than wrong? Will our lives be summed up on an old-timey scale, balancing the good against the bad? Will it take more than a preponderance of evidence to convict or acquit us in the final scheme of things?

I think we were put on this earth to be our best selves, to live up to our God-given potential not as athletes or businesspeople or celebrities, but as fully functioning, empathetic, loving humans. And whatever we do that does not push us closer to that goal is probably a diversion at best and a trap at worst.

So, I put it to you: Are you a success? Have you done one good thing? Name it.

When my niece was just a tiny thing — four, maybe five — we went to Disneyland together. Spotting a cast member (that’s Disney-speak for “employee”) dressed up like Jack Sparrow from “The Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, surrounded by (mostly female) fans, Sami piped up, “Captain Jack has quite the entourage.” Of course we laughed. What child that age says “entourage”? But of course she was right.

The other day, a lady I met at church phoned me about a party she was hosting. “Bring your girlfriends!” she suggested. I found myself conjuring up a fantasy life for myself, one where “me and the girls” went places together (possibly even during the week), drank wine liberally, chatted about the latest twist on our must-see TV shows. This vision lasted all of three seconds. Then I found myself awkwardly explaining that this was not, in fact, my life. Unlike Captain Jack, I do not have “quite the entourage.”

My friends are long-term and loyal. And few. One of them has been my “BFF” since fifth grade. Another has seen me through 30 years of living — I was the first person she called after she had her first child. My sisters-in-law are fully sisters to me. Our closest “couple friends” are, and have always been, my brother and his wife, Jennifer (parents of the aforementioned Sami). I consider Ruth and SueBE, with whom I share this blog, some of dearest friends…and I have never met either in person. The friend I talk to most lives in Indianapolis. I live in Kansas.

I often think it would be nice to have an ebullient, enthusiastic pack of friends who wanted to go out into the world with me and just have fun. But I realize I was not built for such things. I’m a homebody. I prefer books to parties. Like Greta Garbo, I “vant to be alone.” And that’s okay. Having fewer friends doesn’t mean I prize them any less. In fact, I cling to them.

You know who did have “quite the entourage”? Jesus. Mounds of people followed him. But he designated just 12 as apostles. And of the 12, we hear mostly of a chosen few: Peter, John, James, Andrew. Even fewer actually have speaking roles in the Gospels. Mostly, it’s Peter, the lug-head, who says something profound followed immediately by something profoundly stupid. And yet Christ built a church on him.

Jesus accepts us as we are, introvert or extrovert, mystics and simpletons. But what’s beautiful is that we all have the opportunity to be close to him — as close as any human beings can possibly be and more so. Your relationship with him can be deeply intimate. So can mine. With Jesus, there’s no need for an entourage. You’ve got all you need in one person.

Human beings are such touchy-feely creatures. I think that’s why God gave us friends. Certainly, all of my friends have moved my spiritual journey along in wise and wonderful ways. They are, in a word, good people. They are of God. Maybe that’s not the litmus test for everybody’s friendships, but it is for mine. Maybe quality, not quantity, counts in the end. Anyway, I’m grateful. Thanks, friends.

A friend is going through a divorce, and I felt for her right away. I’ve been through it, and it’s not easy. I’ve thought about what to say to encourage her, and decided that it wouldn’t help to go into detail about my own saga. It boils down to one thing.

If it didn’t stay, it wasn’t a blessing.

Better days are ahead instead.

A man can leave, taking away the blessing of an intact family.

But my son is a blessing that stayed. My dog (God rest) was a blessing that stayed. My humble/wonderful house is a blessing that stayed. Even my car (despite five recalls, still running – knock wood) is a blessing that stayed.

There’s something else that happens when you go through dark nights of the soul. Once you get to the other side, you really appreciate the good things and kindred spirits that stayed in your life. And you find that those hardships helped you earn your stripes in the boot camp of life.

Peace of mind is a blessing I earned. A positive attitude is a blessing I earned. This unwavering laser focus on what’s beautiful, uplifting, encouraging, magnificent, fantabulous in life. It’s all good. All the time.

I didn’t have it in those tumultuous times during a stormy marriage, or a job that sucked the life out of me, or situations that weren’t good for me.

In days past, I didn’t fully appreciate the simple blessings in life, like a beautiful sunrise. A peaceful home. Food on the table. Restful sleep. Friends you can count on. A cat on the couch.

Take the “no” out of nostalgia and put the “yes” in yesterday. If it brings you down to think of the pain of the past, put it behind you. Let it go. Move forward. Trust that God knows what He’s doing.

There are things that happen in a lifetime, but a good life is built on the good in life.

And no matter that the storms may come. Remind yourself: you don’t live under a dark cloud. You live under the silver lining.

If peace is a place, where is it?
Do you know it when you find it,
like the Northwest Passage
or the Cape of Good Hope?
Can it be detected only in solitude,
or can others come along?
Do you know it only from the absence
of its opposite? Does peace scream
“Here I am!”?
Does it steal upon you in moments,
like a hummingbird buzzing against your palm,
or does it descend in a wash, like rain?
Can you live there?
Has anyone ever known it,
known it like the scar on the heel
of their hand, like a song sung by heart?
Is it blue (a color that isn’t really there),
like calm seas; does it live in winter,
cracking and thawing like birthed icebergs?
Will I ever find it? — Is it just outside
the reach of my hand or
hovering above my head?
Or will I only see it, minutes before I go,
like a mole I always had but never noticed?
Or is it a destination?

coelho

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