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So I bought a frozen pizza that was on sale for less than a dollar. Turned on the oven and put the pizza in to cook. Once it was done, I tried to pull it out of the oven, but it got stuck on the rack. After a struggle  to get it out of the oven, I was really hungry and took a bite. Instantly, I regretted it, as it was still too hot and it burned the roof of my mouth. To boot, it was flavorless, as if I was eating the box it came in. All that work and it tasted like cardboard.

And I thought, how many life experiences are like that?

You twist yourself into contortions for someone else (insert situation here: a peer group, a romantic interest, a potential employer, etc.) and end up looking back on it with regret. They didn’t like you anyway, even after you changed yourself to make them like you. And you didn’t like yourself in that context either. That wasn’t you.

When the past comes at you with all the weapons in its arsenal – shame, guilt, and regret – whip out the shield to fend off all efforts to get under your skin and into your soul: faith. Faith that every day is a clean slate and a chance to start again – on your own terms. Faith that the choices you made in the past were your best efforts at the time, and helped you build an acumen for action going forward. Faith in the fact that life is good and you deserve every good thing it has to offer.

And as for that negative narrator in your head, reminding you of times you’d just as soon forget? Put on your boots, kick it to the curb, and keep moving.

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I watched last night (by way of television) an Ethiopian couple scale a sheer cliff side in order to reach an ancient church hewn into the mountain. There they would baptize their son. The churches in the village were not good enough. In order for God to really bless their child, they had to seek tiny handholds in the worn rock, teeter across the thinnest of ridges — without the aid of ropes or harnesses. With a tiny baby strapped to their backs.

Then I watched an indigenous rain forest people dance for eight hours straight in order to appease one of their many gods. The vigor of their dance would determine how blessed they would be in the upcoming year. The dancers included small children. Imagine: Eight long hours, no rest.

My God does not require much of me — certainly no long, prolonged dance sessions or life-endangering climbs. But what if s/he did? I fear I would fail. Even life as a Puritan, as one of the settlers of this country in its first 100 years, would have been beyond me. Imagine sitting in church for hours on end, being shrieked at (mostly) for being a sinning worm of a human being, breaking for lunch, then going right back for more. Every Sabbath. Puritan life was joyless and gray, and that’s the way they liked it.

Where along the line did we humans lose the simple thread of God’s love and concern for us? At what point did we take the good news of the New Testament and turn it into an episode of “Survivor”? When did we turn God into one of us — demanding, hard-hearted, aloof? Maybe from the very start.

I like to think that God is easier than that. God simply wants us to love — to love God and to love each other. The rest of it is window dressing.

Or maybe not. What if God calls on me to do something terribly risky — what would my answer be? That Ethiopian couple and those jungle warriors must have faith the size of a whale to do what they do for God. My faith seems like a shrunken, withered bean in comparison.

Do we climb the mountain? Or do we convince ourselves that God wouldn’t ask us to and proceed to huddle under the nearest bed? When faith and fear collide, who wins?

I pray I never have to answer that question.

A noisy blue jay is claiming my yard as his own. I could go out and tell him otherwise — or, better yet, my cat could — but I’m going to let the bird have his little triumph, just for a moment. We all need some light in our lives, even if it is short-lived.

I guess the trick to faith (and hope) is noting light where you see it, even if it’s reflected, or dim, or possibly artificial. At least it gives you a moment to see things more clearly, to assess where you are. At best, it reminds you that life is worth living.

What are your most reliable light sources? Mine are my husband and family, my friends, my faith. Nothing shores me up like the words “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen.” It reminds me of God’s constancy, which will endure long past the moments of darkness.

Choose your light carefully: Don’t look exclusively to people or places to buoy you up. Make sure the light is grounded in something more permanent — like love. People fail you; love doesn’t. Places change; love is eternal. Anything you depend on for light that is not fundamentally anchored in love will not sustain you.

When you find light, turn to it like a plant seeking sun. Bask. Store up sense memory for those times when you doubt the presence of light again.

Also, share the light with others. Please. This may be our greatest charge as humans and our biggest source of failure. I don’t know you, but I love you. I think you are a good person. Come stand in the light with me; our togetherness will make it grow.

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.

 

Photo by Adam Cao on Unsplash

So this morning, I started to go downstairs and got as far as the first step. Forgot the laundry! Turned around, got the bag and went to the basement to get the wash started.

Have you ever started a diet, got fed up (!) with melba toast, and cheated by having some chips? At that point, you said to yourself, Well, I already cheated on my diet. Might as well go all in!, and ordered a pizza?

Mercy. I’ve been there! You figure that the day is already shot since you took that first bite of a Ruffle, so you give up on the diet.

But life isn’t all or nothing. You can turn around and get the laundry. You can stop over-doing it at any point in the day.

The same thing is true of faith. You don’t have to give up on God because religion has let you down. Or you thought it would change everything and you’d lead a charmed life once you found faith.

Deciding hope is better than fear is the first step. Believing in something rather than thinking life has no purpose is another. And the good news is that even if you don’t believe in God, he believes in you.

There’s no set of steps you need to take to make God a part of your life. Some religions require a laundry list of requirements, but I believe He meets you where you are. There are many ways that believers choose to honor their beliefs, including baptism and rituals, but those traditions are symbolic. Just another way to say to the world, I’m going to believe life is good, God is love, and this journey is worth it. All you’ve got to do to make that leap of faith is take that first step.

Every so often, a painful memory will pop up, and your brain will go over the experience again. In a way, you’re saying, here’s another reason why that wrong thing was wrong for me.

It’s like watching a re-run of a drama that you hated the first time. Don’t resurrect it and wallow in the pain of it. It didn’t serve you. It ended. Thank God! No, really. Thank God.

For the experience, which you learned from.
For its being over, which relieved you of that particular pain.
For the opportunity of having a better experience going forward.

Now you know what to look for. Knowing what you don’t want helps you to update your checklist for next time.

One way to transition from a thought that brings you down is to look up. Think about the things you’re grateful for.

Try this: break down a blessing to its most minute component. This is the makeshift meditation I use to shift gears:

Thank you water, thank you coffee, thank you kettle, thank you stove, thank you gas, thank you flame, thank you kitchen, thank you home, thank you Lord.

Gratitude. All the way to the top.

So you leave no space for whatever you were sad about to seep back in. You’ll feel silly doing it the first time, but it’s a powerful negativity blocker.

These grace-gifts will gently elbow out the fraught-thoughts bringing you down.

Morning coffee and an attitude of gratitude. A great way to start the day!

Has this ever happened to you? Something’s thrown you for a loop. You’ve done everything you can, prayed about it and proceeded to let go and let God… then promptly took it back. Worrying about it. Talking about it to anybody who’d listen. Refusing to let it go. 

I’ve done this so often, I can’t believe there isn’t a name for it.

Maybe we’ll call it a prayback.

You pray, give it to God, then take it back.

Listen: there are no takebacks in prayer. You don’t need to take back a problem once it’s entrusted into God’s hands. You can’t take it back anyway. It was never yours to resolve. All you can do is… all you can do.

When my son was just an infant, every so often his pacifier would fall on the floor. I’d grab it, sprint to the kitchen and run it under scalding water until I was sure it was clean. Over time, I loosened up about it, eventually just wiping it on my sleeve and saying this phrase: “Kiss it to God.” Germs build immunity!

Lately, I’ve had this phrase running through my head: “Bless it to yes.”

There are some things you can’t solve right away, but there is always something you can do to take it from an absolute no to something closer to a yes.

What part of this situation can I improve? How can I get everybody on the team (or in the family) working together on a solution? Is there anyone I can call for advice who might have something constructive to add?

If all of these boxes have been checked, keep the faith and keep on moving.

I regard science with the same awe – and even reverence – that I do faith. I know that to some, they are diametrically opposed, but to me, both are suffused with magic and mystery. Most of it is over my head, but both of them fill me with a childlike wonder.

The first time I realized science and faith could co-exist was in high school. My favorite teacher was a former Jesuit priest, and he taught my English class, then later, I took his Latin class. He said that he believed that God created us through evolution, and that really made my head spin.

Ever since then, I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can on my own about space – both inside (the soul), and outside (the universe.)

Astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted a link to a survey that showed almost 40% of people think life wouldn’t be much different if science didn’t exist. He could have said, without science, there would be no treatment for HIV. No strides in cancer research. But he knew what would resonate with people these days. He said, “No science means no social media!”

I was fascinated to read about a newly-discovered galaxy that has almost no dark matter. If only we could say the same thing about life on Earth! No dark matter. A positive place with nothing to bring you down. “Based on the ratio in other galaxies, an isolated galaxy like NGC1052-DF2 should have about a hundred times more dark matter than ordinary matter. But this one appears to have almost none.”

Sounds like a pretty decent neighborhood! Maybe we’ll find a way to get there and build a colony filled with light and where everyone’s good to one another. Till then, I’ll keep looking toward the stars and following my heart.

There are always going to be problems in this world.  Like Miss Ruth pointed out, they will always be there and we might as well view them as projects.

But there are things that need to change – issues of inequality and justice and poverty.  There are the problems that accompany tragedies like fire and hurricane.

None of these things will be solved immediately.  But, step-by-step, progress can be made as we move toward the horizon.  Faith and hope, people.  Faith and hope.

–SueBE

 

This week our church is launching a new program.  We are serving a community dinner on Thursday night.  It is for anyone who wants to come – members of the community who need a meal or anyone who simply wants to dine with other people.

But we have to be ready for walk ins and we have no clue how many people will come.  Not surprisingly, this is inducing anxiety in a lot of people.

How do we know we aren’t just going to prepare food no one wants?  Food waste is a huge problem.

How do we know that we will have enough?  How embarrassing it would be to run out.

Faith and hope.  It may take us some time to have an impact on our community.  It may take a few months until we have some idea how much to prepare.  Hope and faith.

And spaghetti.

–SueBE

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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