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The Episcopal diocese of Washington DC moved this week to refer to God using inclusive language. Good for them. Yes, I know: God is referred to as male thousands of times in the bible. But Jesus himself says God is spirit (John 4:24), and spirit has no gender. Male pronouns have been standard usage for centuries, even when referring to groups with women in them. It’s a default, not a revelation.

Other pet peeves: Why was I never taught that Mary Magdalene is a composite of three different women and was amalgamated by one man — Pope Gregory the Great? And that there’s no biblical evidence that she ever earned a living as a prostitute? Why are Catholic children taught how important — how telling — it is that Jesus picked only male apostles, but the fact that he chose to reveal the Good News —and gave official sanction to spread that news — to women first, not men, is brushed past as though it doesn’t matter?

Why are we not told that all that “he-man, woman-hater” language in Paul’s epistles was likely inserted by monks inscribing them in the Middle Ages?

Why all the lies, both active and of omission? Why has my church kept my God from me?

God is not a rope to be tugged, a prize that falls to those who pull the hardest. God pours down on those in the margins. God comes to the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak. God stands with the powerless.

If you claim to represent God, but stand where God does not stand, what are you, really?

God our mother our father our life-giving hope,
Come to us, blind us with light that does not fail
to catch the corners, the alleys, the hidden places
your most needy children dwell. Burst boundaries.
Be bigger, loom larger, than words will warrant.
As you have before us, as you will long after.

Amen

A good friend revealed to me that she no longer believes. “In what?” a mutual friend asked. “Any of it,” our friend replied. “Prayer. The Holy Spirit. The afterlife.” I hope we were supportive of her; what she is going through is hard. But the road she’s on is one that even saints have trod. Why believe? I can only say that I believe because I need to, because I want to, and because I can. How? It is, as Aziraphale of “Good Omens” would say, “ineffable.”

Faith is fragile.
Prone to breakage,
chimeric and illusory.
Yet just when I think
I can turn my back,
There it is:
A breath on my shoulder,
an arrow, indicating,
a suggestion, a whisper,
a hint of something coming
swiftly. Surely.
I cannot name it,
identify the make and model,
even as it runs me down.
To name it is to contain it,
and that I cannot do.
It springs back, cautious, and
my doubter’s mouth is stopped
by something.
Something?
Something.

 

A recent poll revealed that nearly 80% of Catholics could not explain transubstantiation of the Eucharist. This, the pollsters noted, was a terrible failure. I disagree.

Sue BE was right when she advocated embracing one’s own ignorance and seeking solutions. But not everything is cut and dried. Transubstantiation — the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ — is a mystery. Not every mystery can be diligently divined. Some things remain a mystery.

And that’s okay.

Sure, humans are programmed to want answers, to lean toward black-and-white clarity. But (as Sue also noted) we’re only human. We can’t understand everything. We can’t solve everything. If you can’t live with ambiguity, with shades of gray, with mystery, you’ve got a bumpy journey ahead of you.

The road never did go straight.
Sands shift. Time expands and contracts.
And there you are, in fog, flailing, falling.
Still. Love is sure, and never fails; faith
supplants compasses. Head into the strange
knowing: what cannot be known now
will come, swimming into view, duck
where once was bunny. You will
recognize all things by their contours.
You will stumble into light. But for now,
be at peace. Mystery is a gift. You will
open it at leisure, realizing
it has been in your pocket
all the time.

 

 

My friend Krissy over at Visionarie Kindness Chronicles posted a poem today about her discovery of poetry and how it seeped into her being, helping her make sense of her life. It’s terrific. My origin story is more predictable: My mother read me poetry from the time I was a baby. I remember her reading “The Highwayman” — “the moon was a ghostly galleon/tossed upon cloudy seas/and the highwayman came riding” — and stopping to say, “Do you hear the horse’s hoofbeats?” She tapped out the rhythm of the poem and I HEARD IT. Nothing was the same after that.

I was in bed when poetry first found me,
pierced my heart ear-first, an elf, a thief,
a waif who having found warm welcome
would never leave me. I started hearing it
everywhere, whispering words I kept
hidden in the trunk of a tree, in a shoebox
with my paper dolls, behind the geraniums,
velvet-leafed, that flanked the house I
fledged in. They grew, took root,
cross-pollinated with prayer until
there wasn’t anyone else I could ever be,
so bound was poetry with my blood.
I wept alliteration, sighed in spondees.
I was a Phantom of Delight; I was
alone and palely loitering. I was
The Lady of Shalott in “My heart
belongs to Daddy” pajamas.
Heroes get powers. I got a pen.
But I learned how to fly with it anyway.
Now only God can see me coming.

Today marks the Feast of the Assumption, the day when Jesus’ mother Mary was lifted body and soul into heaven. The “body” part is a big deal, apparently; once dead, the rest of us won’t see our bodies again until the Second Coming. But why would we need a body in heaven? Are we really that attached to these lumbering “bags of mostly water” (to quote an alien on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”)?

We are, I suppose, tactile creatures. Our bodies give us something to hang on to. Something to physically claim as our own. But we are not just our bodies. Whatever it is that gives a bunch of cells and chemicals sentience, it is certainly more than skin deep.

You may put all manner
of disparate matter into a bowl,
it will not stand or speak or dance.
How then, does the stuff of stars
transmute into mortal form?
And why do we hold so hard
to them, to familiar flesh—
an old coat gone out of style,
a pair of boots too snug?
Sentiment? Memory?
We walk a lifetime in skin,
our soul’s home, for a moment.
Will we shed them like a shell?
Or carry them into the kingdom,
into doughy glorification?
Only the maker knows
how lowly flesh becomes
capable of the infinite.

Moisturizer. Sun block. Hair spray. Toothpaste. Insect repellent. I am making a list of things I will need when I go to Mexico next month for a brief vacation. It’s what we do. We make lists — from groceries to chores, business to long-term goals. What we have, what we need. Call it taking stock, prioritizing or simply Type-A fussiness…lists keep us organized and moving in the right direction. But when’s the last time you made a list of the things your soul needs? After all, isn’t life a journey, too?

Patience, I will pack it,
and courage, enough to bolster
what is not native to my being.
Empathy I own in large amounts;
it will not cost me to lavish it liberally.
Silence is a skill, it will fit neatly in
my toolkit. Tolerance I will plant
between hope and faith, perhaps
they will cause it to grow, like
garlic rooted next to roses.
Love, justice and mercy will be
my water, my matches, my tent.
Where I hope to go,
I must be well supplied.
Humility I will keep
close to me: When all else
fails, it will sustain me.
Forgiveness I will scatter freely,
a trail of crumbs to show
where I have traveled.
Come after me.
When we tire,
like worn stones,
we will lean,
on one other.
The road will
rise before us.

You know what I realized today? That I wished all my doctors had multiple sclerosis.

Wait. What?!?

Hold up. That’s not what I meant at all!

Let me re-phrase that. What I meant was, a doctor with MS would have unique insights that might be helpful to me as a fellow patient.

This is what it’s like to write a blog post with MS-mind. My posts begin with disjointed ideas that eventually make sense. Still, I’ll never publish a post until Lori or SueBE has had a chance to proofread it. 

Often, I find that I’m trying to explain symptoms to doctors who see through a lens that’s calibrated by conventional wisdom. Once, I told a physician that food, liquids and pills can get stuck in my throat due to trouble swallowing. She suggested liquid medications instead of pills, but that wouldn’t be helpful, as it would take several swallows to get down, as opposed to a pill, which is only a gulp or two of water. 

That’s why I’m encouraged to read a blog like The Cricket Pages, because it’s written by a young lady who’s licensed as a social worker, but also struggles with anxiety. Her description of getting lost in a parking deck after taking her licensing exam was nerve-wracking just to read, and so relatable.

So while I don’t wish illness on any doctors out there, as this article about a doctor who became a patient shows, it can change their perspective. That can be the case in terms of faith as well. If you’ve been through hardships in your life, you know how it feels to soldier through it alone. You can be a healer yourself. All it takes is a word of encouragement and a heart of compassion.

Where did the phrase “under the weather” come from anyway? Surely no one is over the weather. Or above it somehow. Maybe there’s a travel agency for millionaires that allows them to exist in a pocket just above the jet stream. They get to bypass any dark clouds that rain on the rest of us.

Of course, that’s not true. Anyone can find themselves “under the weather.” It coincides with that moment when you realize you’re just not yourself. Who are you then? As it turns out, a stranger with bad intentions.

That happened to me last week. I became so consumed by the negative that I forgot there are always good things to focus on. You almost want to give your sad state a name, as if it’s a location on the map: Deep Doldrums, New Jersey. Not a nice place to visit, and you surely don’t want to live there. The roads are comprised entirely of potholes and litter. There are no traffic lights. No sidewalks. No safety features of any kind. Why? It’s designed by your own mind to be a dead-end street with no off-ramp.

The answer is to figure out what’s got you down. For me, it was health issues that seem to have no resolution, along with financial concerns. It took a week to work its way out of my system, but dawn finally broke. Once I shifted my focus to the part of the situation that I can improve and gave the rest over to God, I felt more hopeful. Lori and SueBE let me know they’ve always got my back, which helped more than words can say.  An answer will come along, but in the meantime, dear readers, don’t give up. A new day is on its way.

“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.)

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.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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