You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘words of wisdom’ category.

I’m doing again. Trying to buy Christmas, that is. Trying to bring home God-made-manifest in a series of shopping bags. Trying to echo God’s ultimate gift of love with stuff hauled in from the local mall. It is, of course, an endeavor doomed to failure.

Even the Grinch realizes by the end of the story that Christmas doesn’t come in a gaily-wrapped package. But even knowing that at a cellular level doesn’t stop the rampant commercialism of the holidays. You feel the tug of it everywhere you go. How can I show the people I love that I love them? How about a brand new set of knives! It’s enough to put a damper on anyone’s spirits. Gift-giving becomes a burden, rather than a joy.

So where do we find Christmas if not under a tree? Inside of ourselves. And how do we kindle that spark while being simultaneously bombarded by cookie-baking, house-trimming, gift-wrapping, covert buying and endless card-addressing?

I wish I had an answer to that. Maybe it’s a little like touching a butterfly: You can chase it around, offer bait, call out to it…and nothing is likely to happen. But if you just sit still and wait, quietly and patiently, it may very well land on your outstretched hand.

As the calendar turns to December, let us not chase down Christmas with a net and a cage. Go where the season pulls you — to church, to volunteer opportunities, even to a cozy evening on the couch with Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. Tell your loved ones you love them. Let God find you this Christmas, waiting, ready, snug as a manger filled with fresh hay.

Advertisements

SueBE has done it again. She got me thinking about peace and why it’s so hard to find. It seems like all I do lately is complain (inwardly) that I sorely lack peace in my life. Why, for instance, won’t robo-callers leave me alone? Why can’t I accept myself? WHY WON’T THE CAT STOP HOWLING FOR FIVE MINUTES???? (Answer: Because he’s ancient and unhappy 99% of the time. Why? Because the food — of which there is plenty — is somehow not right; the water — which I just freshened — could be fresher; there is another cat in the house somewhere and he does not like her; I am petting him, but it’s not enough….)

And then it comes to me: like my grumpy old kitty, I’m never going to find peace outside of myself if I can’t find it inside myself. But where to start?

Lord, let me be the silent eye of the storm:
the inward facing mirror
the still leaf on the grass
the clasped hand
the itched spot
the blank page.

Take away the inward twitches:
the needling of impossibilities
the rattling of nerves
the empty pinging of ambition
the revisioning of history
the cacophony of injustice

I cannot solve it or salve it.
Lord, let me live in it,
not indifferent but aware
that the end of the story
has not yet been written
and when I read it I will know
that all of the noise was for nothing.

When the whole world is a lie,
where do you go for truth?
Look inside yourself.
Find the one thing you would die for.
Extract it like a sliver.
Hold it up as high as you can.
(Don’t worry. Some
will not see, even if what you hold
is mountainous, epic, blinding.)
Your arm will wobble. Your chest
will heave with tears. Let them come.
God will see what you are holding:
If it is not worthy, you will know.
You can hide in the bowels of the earth;
still God will find you. If you are holding paper,
you will wither like a leaf in winter. If you hold
yourself, you will become a shadow. Only love
will shield you, so make yours vast, lavish,
even impractical. Stand in the light of one true thing,
and God will stand with you.

The weather is mocking me: After three days of rain, only the most tentative flicker of sunshine. It’s enough to make a person lose hope. And I have lost it, especially of late. I’ve lost hope in the Sisterhood (you know, that wild idea that women might work together for our own good), in men, in the Church, and in the bright, shiny promise of Democracy. I’ve lost hope that somehow we’re going to pull it together before the effects of global warming smack us in the face with a cataclysmic shout of “too late!”

But it’s okay. Because at the bottom of my Pandora’s box remains one thing — faith in God. And because of this, I can’t lose hope entirely. I have to still believe in the Sisterhood, in men, in the Church, in the bright, shiny promise of Democracy. I even have to believe that maybe we’ll save the planet before it’s too late. But only because I believe in God.

I don’t have to believe that human beings are capable of being fair or loving or vigilant, because God demonstrates over and over that God can work a miracle through the unlikeliest of people. Most saints are saints despite themselves. They are saints because God worked through them. And God can work through any of us.

So while I might be experiencing a dark night of the soul, there’s still some sunlight left in my inventory. And that is the idea of God’s infinite possibility. If you can believe in that, you can never lose hope. Good thing, too, because a life without hope is no life at all.

Everyone’s got an opinion these days, and we each think only ours is right. We will insert ourselves into conversations in which we do not belong just to tell other people so. We’ll deny others’ lived experiences with our own conjectures about how we might have lived it, had it been up to us. And everything is up to us — it’s all out there on the table, ready to be judged, pawed over, analyzed. Nothing is private. Nothing is sacred. Nothing can be held out as indisputably true. Please, let us all take a step backwards and listen — just listen. Truth can only come when everyone is heard.

I say, “How could they, possibly?”
and yet possibly people do,
improbably and often.
It’s the old sin, snaking,
rearing up like an asp,
to ask: “Who knows
better than you?”
And there you are,
mouth full of apple,
mealy beneath your tongue.
You know nothing. At core,
at core, all of us know nothing.
Lock your opinion in your bones
until — and, yes, unless — you
find yourself kicking the embers
of the same conflagration.
And even then, know —
there were other ways,
other gates, out of the garden.

The other day during a church discussion, we ended up talking about spending time with people who are different from ourselves.  One woman lived for a while in Hawaii.  In college, I had professors from all over the world.  After college, I worked with students from Malaysia and South Korea. There were times I was the only native English speaker in a room of over 50 people.  I also worked a pow wow for several years.

“We haven’t all gotten to travel like you.”

What?  No.  I was here.  In Missouri.  Missouri is not known for its diversity.

After the discussion, our minister stopped me.  “People who are different from I am fascinate me,” he said.  “I want to learn all about them.  I think you’re the same way.”

I laughed because when I was little, my grandmother would let me older cousins take all us kids across the street to play in the park.  When it was time to go home, they’d often have to fetch me because I was off playing with “the new kids.”  Often these kids were recent Mexican immigrants and didn’t yet speak English.  That didn’t faze me, tag was tag!

Before you decide you don’t have any opportunities to meet a wide variety of people, look around you.  God gives us a wide variety of opportunities.  Me? I’m always on the lookout for someone new and fascinating.

–SueBE

I can make myself believe
that voting still matters
that good will win out
that women will be heard
and people of color respected

I can make myself believe
that redemption is possible
that no one (even me) is useless
that justice is a-comin’
and blue waves can save

I can make myself believe
all manner of fairy tales:
Father knows best
blind obedience is my duty
and we can pray away the pedophiles

But I cannot believe in America
(not really)
or in my Church
(not absolutely)
until men believe in change.

Last year, something momentous happened to our country. For the first time in history, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), an agency who reviews and rates countries based on their democratic values, dropped our ranking from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy.” For those who need a translation, that takes America from its rarified position alongside Norway and Canada and plunges it down into the ilk of countries like Chile, Italy and Botswana. This year, the EIU confirmed its earlier analysis: Americans don’t live in a genuine democracy anymore. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

It has been suggested of late that people who complain about our government — or, worse, protest against it — are somehow “un-American.” They don’t respect our flag! They don’t respect our military! That’s a load of hooey. Protest is as American as apple pie. It’s our origin story: Rebels leaving their homes to come to the New World so they could rebel against England, against each other, against religious tyranny, government control, racism, sexism — you name it. We’re the agitated, red jacket-wearing James Dean of countries.

Rebels are patriots. They understand that the only way to keep the system honest is to challenge it, constantly. They love their country not despite its flaws, but including them — but they know their country can do better. They should be commended for that.

So should people who speak up about the flaws in other institutions, like the Catholic Church. If the Church can’t fix itself (and God knows it needs fixing), it becomes irrelevant. And it dies. Think of protesters as people who care enough to demand not just what is but what could be — if we were all at our best.

A person who loves blindly doesn’t really love at all. It’s the person who sees all the blemishes and scars and ugliness of something and still chooses to love it who really understands what love is.

It’s the way God loves us: Warts and all. And our loving response should be to fix our warts as we are able. Otherwise, love is just a one-way street, and God deserves better. So do we.

The other day, a friend asked me a question, which I answered using the phrase “our neck of the woods.” But I didn’t mean Kansas. I was referring to my childhood home in California. I’d reverted from Midwesterner to a more primitive self — the self who still thinks of herself as a So Cal girl.

And yet Southern California is no more my true home than Kansas. The Orange County I remember is long gone. The orange groves became high schools and office buildings. The ranchos were leveled for homes. Even the Disneyland of my youth bears little resemblance to its current incarnation. (Does anyone else remember when the parking lot was lettered by Disney character? “Hey Dad! We’re parked in Thumper!”)

Maybe our longing for home is really a longing for something else — a sense of belonging, of being understood. We can try to recreate it, but we’ll never really find it here.

I like to think that we’re born with a dim memory of heaven, and we spend our lives trying to get back there, to that place we really knew as home. It would make death a sweet return…assuming, of course, that we have lived a life that grants us passage to heaven.

All our reminiscing, all our auld lang syne, is nothing more than a deeper craving for our true home with God. In which case Thomas Wolfe is completely wrong: You can go home again.

It just won’t be Kansas. Or California. Or anywhere, really, you can find on a map.

Like many of you out there, I’ve always had questions about the parable of the Prodigal Son. For instance, why was it such a big deal that he asked for his inheritance early? My pastor put an end to my wonderings: to the Jewish people of the time, asking for your inheritance was tantamount to wishing your father dead. It was a breach in relationship that could not be mended. Except that the father in the story does mend it — just as God mends the breaks we make with God, over and over, on a daily basis.

Does God make it too easy for us to return home? Maybe. But if God made it harder, we’d never come. Imagine the waiting God does for us! Perhaps a modern perspective will help:

Waiting became habit;
habit became a life.
Day after day,
your father longed for you.
His world became one chair,
one single pane of glass.
Through the window,
he could track the hour
of every package delivery,
chart the bladder capacity
of every dog on the block.
He missed nothing.
When you came,
he was out of his seat in a shot,
prepared to embrace
even your apparition.
Your real flesh,
on the welcome mat,
made him weep.
Yet all the time
you embrace him,
your eye is on the door.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: