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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Grocery List: Hope

Hey, God…

With remorse I awoke. In my chaos I had a grocery list going for three days. Somehow I vaguely remember putting the word “hope” on the list, but I don’t remember when. But it was there. You have reminded me that hope starts with a true and hard look at oneself. And repentance.

I have not been very nice. I have expected others to live up to the very expectations I myself cannot live up to. I will try to be more careful with my words, and to remember that those start with my thoughts. And those start with the heart.

I am sorry.

Thank you, Lord, for your cleansing. I will try to accept it, but I’ve had a lot of sand in my shoes lately. I think I’ll go barefoot for awhile and open myself to the experience of nervelessly feeling everything raw. Pain, and all. Broken shells, and all. Yes, I deserve it.

ow-ow-ow-ouchie-ow-oooch-ow!

It is the pain of honest reflection which leads one to the hope of renewal and improvement.

Let me go forth today in a state of humility, for You, even though I am not worthy of servanthood. Let me remember that in my heart at all times.

Thanks, God, for putting up with me, and for giving others the same forgiveness of me.

 

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Hey, y’all…

Although yesterday’s beach sand (see yesterday’s post) tracked throughout and through-in has by now been relocated, the spiritual grit, albeit smoothed and soothed, remains lodged in the shoes of my soul. Today, it’s back to the piles of laundry and dishes…there they sit, here I blog. 🙂

Several encounters recently have caused me to reexamine various facets of the nature of faith as it relates to human behavior. Certainly, cramming for an upcoming exam is contributing to these ponderings; two notions in particular. One of these is the fact that those who are financially comfortable have more time to devote to introspection and tend to focus more on self, while those who are financially challenged are focused outside themselves, primarily due to the need for basic survival and possibly more of a personalized reality of what it means to give and receive. Like the widow giving two mites, perhaps it is easier to give and receive when less means more, than when more means less.

The second is the idea of cognitive dissonance and balance theories and research, which indicate that we are naturally drawn toward achieving a state of balance in our thoughts, feelings and behaviors: when one area is incongruent with the others, we find ways to support our choices in any of these three areas by justifying or finding facts to support our choices. The classic example is the owner of a new Ford, who selectively focuses on anything he can find which supports Ford ownership and which points out the pitfalls of owning a Chevy, finding reasons to reject any information which may support the opposite decision.

We like to think we have logical, external backing for our internal processes. It lent itself to sanity, yes, and gives us a wiggle-exit if we later find we thought/felt/did wrong…we can then conveniently externalize the responsibility. You know you’ve done this! It is the ballroom dance between our internal and external loci of control. It is how we drive our mental car. “I chose to do/think/feel this way because my understanding of the life as I know it, gives me both reason and responsibility to do so.” This is how we seek comfort in all senses of the word. It is how our world becomes right, and how we find things to be right with the world. Paradoxically, it is also how we justify wrongdoing. The Ford owner forms his beliefs and stands by his choice, the same way the Holocaust happened. No offense to Ford owners, but sin…is sin…is sin.

The problem comes when such notions driving our choices fly in the face of common sense, basic human responsibility, scriptural or moral obligations, etc. Here I tread carefully, aware that merely philosophizing about this renders one in hypocrite territory. Thus, I will be the first to admit, as human, I have also sinned, have introspected as wealthy and have survived as poor; I have selectively arranged the world around me in my head to accommodate my mental, emotional and physical processes. I have criticized others’ choices while justifying my own. I have harbored thoughts both of evil and wellbeing, understandings and misunderstandings, uncovered “facts” as frauds when more information was obtained, and have altered my perceptions when afforded a different perspective. Even though I have (at least in theory) traded in my judgment goggles for an understanding that I am terribly limited in what I know and experience, somehow my wretched tendency to make sense of the world by selective opinion formation persists.

Rats.

Like yesterday’s fine, white sand causing chafing and annoyance until washed away, the experience of spiritual grit ultimately yields smooth and refined surfaces. Here are a few little grains of grit from my recent days which are (if I don’t let them spiritually flatten me further) – and I chafe to admit – ultimately lending themselves to refinement, if permitted:

1.) “I feel really led by God to….(fill in the blank with one’s personal desire). Here we have the classic ticket in or out of whatever it is we want to do. Typically, people don’t stretch this one too far, since they are implying that it is something virtuous it is that they wish to do. The key word is “feel:” we all know we can’t always trust our feelings. So why trust them when it’s convenient? Just what does it look like, broken down into steps, when God leads somebody to do something? What about His having given us freewill? Most blokes in the Bible usually hid or ran the other direction when actually being led or called by God.

It doesn’t really jibe with the predetermination camp of thinking, either. I mean, how exactly does one experience the feeling of being led by the Almighty? Do common everyday experiences suddenly become “signs,” or are our subconscious psychological drives leading us to believe faith-based movement is at hand? I can feel led to lead a Bible study about as easily as I can feel led to blow off the laundry and sit on my ass and blog. I can just as easily find any number of scripture to back up either choice. Sorry, I’m not buying this one just now. I saw someone use this two weeks ago to weasel out of something that would have been a more charitable, goodwill activity, to go sit in church instead of helping those in need. I’ve done this myself, hurting others in my wake. I recognize baloney when I see it. And for better or worse, I was trained to spot it a mile away. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we were honest? In the end, people appreciate truth, so goes the proverb. And for God’s sake (literally, not taking His name in vain), don’t invoke the image of His powers, if you’re basing it on your human feelings/beliefs. It would be more accurate to say, “I want/need/believe I should….”

2.) “(fill in the blank with an event) must be/isn’t God’s will.” Okay, this one gets old. This one has been pegged as the worst possible thing you can say to someone grieving. But what about the rest of the time? When was the last time you knew, really knew God’s will, before He made His intentions manifest? You didn’t, did you (rhetorical, please)? Last time I checked, the whole thing was a work in progress, with a beginning and an end, and we’re not at either end of the spectrum. At least not yet, if you’re reading this. Most the times I’ve thought I knew what His will was, I wound up being so far off-base, it wasn’t even funny. When things work out the way they do, is it because He willed it? Or allowed it, given our choices and beliefs? Or did He predetermine it before we saw it coming? Or did we screw it up in our foiblous state, and He’s going to make the best of it despite us?

Moses had to go before Pharaoh many times before rocks started to roll in the direction of God’s will. But there was a lot of anguish and suffering along the way. How presumptuous for us to assume we can know His will in the moment, when our perceptions and experiences are so miniscule on the spectrum of His timeline. I agree that praying His will is the prayer that is always answered…but from what I can tell in my limited understanding, it is not always answered directly in front of us. Sometimes things unfold over eons. And sometimes they’re a done deal. Either way, how can we possibly comprehend and perceive, from among the leaves and debris on the forest floor, the bigger picture that lies beyond the top of the forest canopy?

3.) “Satan/God really must….(fill in the blank with a convenient anthropomorphism).” How amused the entities must be when we impose our suppositions on that which we cannot tangibly perceive! Yes, I see the hypocrisy of my assertion, so I’ll leave well enough alone on this one.

4.) Denominational elitism: As if we are competing in some type of Spiritual Superbowl, people like to back up their decision to attend their chosen place of worship because they find it to be superior to others. Well, that’s what it is, isn’t it? We have to tell ourselves that this is the best place to go because of this or that. Who in their right mind would hang out at a place they believe is inferior? No, we are driven to settle in the place we find most comfortable. Comfort is achieved when we experience cognitive balance. It aligns with OUR beliefs, perceptions, understanding, hopes, etc. Have you ever forced yourself to hang out in a place that went against your core beliefs? (Ford guy driving a Chevy?) What happened?

It will either drive you to discomfort and negative emotions as you struggle with the dissonance and eventually leave in an existential huff, or you will find ways to accommodate the differences into your current mental schema. You will find ways to justify and support your decision to stay. I believe this is, at a systems-level, how good places of worship go bad. One thing I have found in my spiritual travels, is that there really is not a whole lot of difference between denominations’ goals. Style and interpretation may differ, but peoples’ ultimate quest is pretty much the same. We must make mental exceptions to brush off the aspects we don’t agree with, in order to settle on one place or the other. Unfortunately, it is the aspects we brush off that sometimes ought to be paid more attention.

In any case, it is easy to be complicit with being off-target, and again, we justify our choice to be where we are worshiping, because it “feels” best to our way of thinking and our expectations. In upholding our choice, we unavoidably diss the choices of others. Those spiritually inclined ought to move themselves out of their comfort zones more often and engage in a moveable feast of experiencing others’ experiences. Rarely did God keep His guys in one spot forever…the good ones, the ones He used most, were always on the move. Mobility spawns wisdom and perspective. “Settling” spawns tunnel vision and ignorance (in the dictionary sense of the term, e.g. lack of awareness). When God spoke, it was always “Go.” It was never, “Pray about it and get back to me if you’re game.”

Unleash thyself, thou pigeonholed! Dare to expand yourself in Him.

5.) “Let me pray about that…” (used in the context of an impending decision to be made). As referenced above, what kind of clarity does God give us with our limited perspectives? and our limited wills? When you think about it, we’re probably more unwilling to do what He’d like us to do, than we realize. How pompous of us to imply, much less to others, that by praying about something, we will be among the privileged few to receive a clear answer. What really happens when we pray? How does “the” answer come to us? Is it some divine lightning bolt that bears God’s stamp of approval on it? And what exactly does that look like?

That being said, we must pray. And in my understanding, we have a direct line to God. I talk to Him as a friend, as you know from other posts. He is there with me. At least I feel/will/think/believe Him to be. But the process of prayer is not like some privy consultation going on that elevates us and diminishes others’ same right. No, it is I as a humble servant who cannot possibly know the magnitude of His will. I trust I will only see slivers of it. I believe day to day decisions we make are based upon our knowledge, thoughts, feelings and experience. Part of that may be scriptural, but ultimately, shouldn’t we take responsibility for our choices? What can go wrong if we screw up? We’re already sinners, that’s already been well established. We mean well in some ways, and we don’t in others, because we are naturally selfish creatures. We want what we want, simultaneously while wanting to be perceived by others and ourselves as virtuous. Sometimes the best we can do is acknowledge our wretchedness and learn from our mistakes. Some of us are doomed to repeat them, but that shouldn’t stop us from striving to be better.

When asked what drives people away from God and worship, most research shows people are disillusioned with what they perceive to be hypocrisy. These five points were salient to me because they got stuck in the shoe of my walk. Thanks for pausing with me while I slide off my shoes and dump the sand out, dear friend.  I know my weary feet are all the smoother and prettier out of the deal, on this long walk of life. And thanks for walking this beach with me.

Heh, life’s a beach!

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9/11: Anonymously Intimate

Recently, my neighbor came over to fetch her children, as they played with mine in the growing shadows of the big, old oak tree while the sun cast its final rays before bidding us good evening. She’d been busy with her life; I’d been busy with mine, and it had been a shamefully long time since we’d had a chance to visit. Seizing the opportunity, I invited her in while the children played on, school night be darned, kitchen table be blessed. Red for her, white for me.

Some time ago, we’d already established that we had much in common, besides being neighbors: we both attended liberal arts colleges for women on the east coast (come to think of it, she, from the same one my young cousin (bless her Yankee heart) from Boston graduated from), we have similar goals for future education, our children are in the same class, both just placed in the gifted program, and we both have a passion for writing. Interestingly, each of us followed the path the other one considered, but did not take. She gets paid to write (a professional poet, a rare and exotic bird!) yet is drawn to work with students. I get paid to work with students, yet I am drawn to write.

Now, my dear friend, you may think we’d have many words to share with one another, but, as most writers are better writers than speakers, our neighborly conversations are deliciously and painfully (yes, pain might be delicious) elongated as we grapple with the paradox of having to work hard at extracting the words in our heads that flow best through our fingers. One sentence can last a small and awkward eternity, as we labor to retrieve the precise words that otherwise would effortlessly transfer on to paper or screen, and instead harness and channel them through the speech department of the left brain so it rather ejects out of our mouth. Not so easier-said-than-done!

Baby blogger that I am, I began to wonder if we had yet another thing in common. “Do you blog?” I cautiously prodded. Yes, she responded in an equally cautious tone; in fact, two: one for poetry, one for journaling, and had been doing so for the better part of a decade. But, she quickly added with hesitation, “I don’t really share them…I just kind of put them out there, you know….” She trailed off as I read her mind, because that was my own intention for this: a way to satisfy my compulsion to write to God, you, and the universe without having to explain myself to those I choose not to disclose my heart to, be they relatives, coworkers, you know…

I quickly put her mind at ease by assuring her I wasn’t headed in the direction of exchanging blog addresses for the same reasons she also communicated, and we agreed it was easier to be anonymously intimate. Good fences make good neighbors, indeed: we not only shared blogging in common, but also valued the wisdom in remaining anonymous with each other in this way. We are both on WordPress: I can surf the “poetry” tag and never know which work is hers; she will never know I am the Southern Sea Muse. Another paradox: inner hearts wide open to the world, yet jealously protective of privacy. What an interesting world it has evolved into. And yet, the mutual affirmation of our respective needs for anonymity somehow strengthened our bond. How many lessons in love might be extrapolated from that little nugget?

I was moved to study Project 2996 yesterday. Scrolling through the names of those I might choose to memorialize who lost their lives on 9/11, I found myself with some odd version of writer’s block: many already had moving memorials written – how could I possibly add to these? what more could possibly be said? What could I, one who did not know any of them personally, find that was freshly moving to add? Ten years have passed; each person had by now enough information out there that they were easily Google-able. The only thing I personally could relate to them was my memory of the last time I walked the streets of New York City, back when the Twin Towers were still a part of the skyline. And my memory of 9/11 itself.

Where were you?

I had to think about it now, ten years later. Ten years ago, we had just returned from a trip to this very cherished sea from which I now write to you, two days before airline travel would change as we now know it. I was in a house – not yet home here – near the top of a mountain, nursing the eldest in the bedroom when my mother-in-law called, and told us to turn on the television, informing us of the first tower being struck. Just as we hung up and tuned in, we watched in sheer horror, live, as the second tower was struck. The surreal moment subdued us into silence for a long, long time, as our minds tried to wrap around what we were seeing and hearing. The baby stopped nursing, perceiving that something was emotionally amiss. Other than that, I am certain this experience was not unlike what hundreds of thousands of others also experienced.

Waking up in the mood to blog today, it wasn’t long before I decided that whatever I had to say about life as I know it, felt pale, insignificant, even crass, as I reflected upon what today means to our country. I was again subdued into silence, and found it ironic that I had no voice (literally, as ignoring last week’s little cold has turned into this week’s bigger battle demanding attention). Being sick, life’s typical annoyances are magnified tenfold. Yet another “Good Christian” (a relative, no less) came out of the woodwork after a few years, calling me at work, and behaved in a manner that caused me to put another notch in the bedpost of wavering faith (thanks, God, for Your steadfastness, anyway!). Meanwhile, at work, it was sheer mutiny on the bounty as I guide my staff through unprecedented changes in the company’s history. Eldest child had suspicious blood work prompting CT scan. Cramming for my national exam. One of those kind of weeks. And here I sit on 9/11, voiceless, unable to care one whit about much of the above, except for the families of the victims of 9/11. Grateful that I have a life. And a family. And problems to worry about. And dreams to dream. And neighbors to be anonymously intimate with.

For the good people who died were doing the most noble of things when they passed: they were living their lives despite such annoyances, they were doing what they deemed best to be doing at the time, helping others (especially the emergency response team members who perished), standing up for what they believe.They were doing the very best that any of us would do. The man, upside-down, falling to his death with seconds to live: he had made a decision that he deemed best at the time. I can respect that. The man waving the white towel out the broken-out window, with only minutes unknown to him before the tower collapsed: he did what seemed best at the moment, and I also respect that. The countless firefighters who climbed the stairwells through the smoke and ash to find the still-living, who would not come out alive: undeniably respectable, noble and heroic.

Would you do anything differently?

I doubt it.

We share so many intimacies, despite our anonymity.

Courage comes from passion, and passion is unquenchable. You, too, will face a moment of courage in which you will be forced to make a life-and-death decision. You will be challenged to act upon what you believe. There will be no hiding, no anonymity in your decision: you will either act, or you will not. It will be an intimate moment, and it will not be anonymous, because you will be accountable for your choice. But there will come a time when you must face yourself in one of the most difficult moments you’ve ever encountered.

Are you ready for that?

God, grant us the courage and stamina of those who endured 9/11 at Ground Zero and the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Bless the families who lost loved ones that day. Give us the wherewithal to muster the same level of bravery in the battles ahead. Nurture the children who will never know the parents or loved ones they lost ten years ago today; may these children have Your vision and passion in leading the next generations into the future. Thank You for healing our nation, and for giving us the impetus to keep striving for improvement. God, thank You for giving me the passion to live this past March when I had the all-too-easy option to die. Help me to understand why I was allowed to make that choice, and others have not. May I have the courage to choose death as easily as it may choose me. May we be martyrs for Your will, not ours. Give us patience with one another, and let us look forward to Your peace. Let us fear no form of evil. Heal the divided nations, Lord. Make it right. Teach us to serve You. Give us the vision to see and do right. Help us to have perspective, wisdom and submissiveness. May the spirit of those who lost their lives ten years ago on 9/11, live on in our passion. Come, Lord Jesus.

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“God’s gonna hate you for missing the opening prayer, y’know,” the spiteful cyclist spat after me as I turned away from him to go into church this morning.

Hey, God…I know You hate some things; You say so in the Bible…but I have trouble believing that my being late because I stopped to let the man yell at me, could make me the target of Your hate. Besides, there was no opening prayer. In hindsight, I should have invited him to come in with me, and we could be late together, and let You sort it all out. Maybe there were more reasons than met the eye that he chased me all that way up that hill on his bike. That was a big hill, too. I thought he and his cyclist partner finally got over to the right side of the road so I could pass, but they evidently were not happy with me passing at all, even though I went slowly and tried to give them extra room. I’ve chased other people to church before for various reasons, but I’ve never been chased before. He really needed to get a few things off his chest, I guess. Glad I didn’t say much. Sorry if I missed a golden opportunity, though.

But there I was, absorbed in a religious experience with the Rolling Stones, as I set out this morning to meet You. “Pride and joy and greed and sex…and look at me, I’m in tatters.” I was thinking, you know, we’re not too far off from that, our human condition…all the things that get in our way of focusing on You, of acquiring a better command of self-control, that we might know You better.

There was no hiding being late from the Nice People, no sneaking in quietly and hiding in the back pew, nosirree Bob. The early service was held in the chapel instead of the main sanctuary, and, typical to arriving 5 minutes late anywhere, there was little left save the front pew and a tiny spot halfway up between three Nice People who looked like they’d gone there all their lives. I was horrified to discover before I hit the door, a Greeter Gorilla who came out to fetch me. “I was going to bring you in…we’re in the chapel this morning,” he gently said. Sheesh, he probably witnessed the Chase, and wondered how it turned out. I was grateful for an escort, still trying to analyze the previous experience. I picked the cozy spot sandwiched between the Nice People. It was more comforting than the empty front pew.

So then You spoke to me again, showing me that it didn’t really matter where I go or how I got to You, the important thing was coming before You. Granted it was a stretch for me, after the Chase, to clear my head and clean house before communion; I did my best under the circumstances. Isn’t that all You ask? I did not feel like one of the Nice People. I did not have Nice Thoughts in my head, nor was I able to focus well on the chitter-chatter-chitter-chatter…”I’m in tatters.” Uh huh. She-doo-be.

Refreshments were not on my post-churchey agenda today. I did what any self-respecting person in tatters would do, and I proceeded directly to the store and took it as a sign from You that my favorite ice cream, Chocolate Trinity (hmmm…another sign), was on sale. Anything but holy today, I was quite certain that a double dip of church and Chocolate Trinity ought to do the trick and restore my soul.

Wanting to redeem myself in advance of premeditated culinary sin, I went for a long run when I got home. I thought this, too, might shake off the post-haunting of the Chase, but no. The humidity was wonderfully oppressive, the mercury was well into the 90s, and the only thing I was able to shake off, besides a few calories, was the residual headache from the Mocker I met the night before. I hadn’t expected to come face to face with another one on my way into church.

Now in physical tatters, dripping in sweat and adrenaline but still feeling slightly rattled, there was only one way to seize control altogether. It was time to conquer the toaster. There are few other household cleaning jobs more satisfying than purging one’s toaster of the crumbs which seem to multiply like sins and remain nicely unseen for extended periods. And, like sin, the toaster contains them neatly, with a few here or there falling out underneath that a quick swipe of the counter each day keeps in check, with no one knowing or seeing.

Some of the crumbs are teeny-tiny, some are blackened to a crisp and unrecognizable, and some come in big chunks that make you wonder how you’ve been able to make toast without causing a major conflagration. And I like the handy little tray that tries, usually unsuccessfully, to contain the crumbs. Kind of like my head. If I keep ’em in check, I can hang on to them, throw them out at will, maybe just get the big chunks if that’s all I have time for or will to manage at that time. Then there are the derelict crumbs which get caught in the toaster itself, which requires derelict measures to extract it, such as operating with a knife. I wasn’t the kid cited in Kindergarten for running with scissors, I was the kid sticking a knife in the toaster. That monster crumb just had to go. At least my mother’s admonition to make sure it was unplugged, safely carried me into adulthood.

I went to town on this thing, dumping the crumb-catcher, shaking the toaster upside down, peering into the openings with my menacing knife. Big crumbs, little crumbs, stuck crumbs, burnt crumbs, they all came tumbling out, and eventually I achieved Law and Order of the Toaster. Only then did I feel resolved about things, and was ready to enjoy my gleaming toaster for a short period before I sully it again by making more crumbs.

God, I can’t help but make crumbs. Such is human existence, I suppose. The toast must be made, but in doing so, so are the crumbs. No wonder You ask us to clean out our toasters from time to time. It is the only way to prevent a disaster in the kitchen You have provided for us.

And if You tell me where I might find that angry man, maybe I can commune with him over a half-gallon of Chocolate Trinity. Heck, maybe I’ll just bring two spoons and we can eat directly out of the carton and clean out our toasters, together in harmony.

She-doo-be.

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Hey, God…

That a child brought me to You this morning was humbling. He had asked with such hope, as best as his broken speech could muster, to go to church. The squeaky creaks of the kneelers echoed in the old nineteenth century chapel. Departing from our usual place of attendance, he did not know what to do with the kneeler until he saw the rest of us kneel and pray. He eventually decided the long padded rail at our feet made for a far better place to sit down than in the pew, as this afforded him a more advantageous perspective of the stained glass windows and of the sensible shoes of the elderly lady kneeling in the pew in front of ours.

He did not mind that he could not take communion because he cannot digest solids; he was grateful to receive a special blessing at the railing instead. He was not disappointed to miss out on the regulation tea and crumpets later in the reception hall; he rather basked in the attention of the new people we met. It was always I who had to be the one to manage my sympathetic disappointments felt on his behalf, and in the end I realized that they were entirely mine, not his – he did not know disappointment of any sort very well. Once disappointments were properly attributed, owned and subsequently discarded on my behalf, it became so much easier to join him in his joy.

I remember the first time I felt the two, distinct and simultaneously contradicting anguishes, felt as a mother of a child with Down syndrome. He was only four days old, but already society by me was damned if they did, damned if they didn’t.

If people offered awkward pity, the urge was to blurt out, “Can’t you see we are the proud, happy parents of a healthy baby? He’s no different…he eats, sleeps and poops right on schedule with the rest of them! Why can’t you congratulate us and be joyful with us?”

If people offered standard congratulations and completely avoided acknowledging his diagnosis, the temptation was to say, “Do you have any idea what we’re going through? Our child is different! Why can’t you offer condolences and join us in our grief?”

It would be years later that I realized people were dealing with it in the various ways they knew best. And so was I, as I began to digest what it meant to be raising a child with special needs.

So it was through life, times when we tried in vain to squeeze the square peg into the round hole…it just never quite fit. And yet it was well worth trying, because we all learned things along the way, and it enriched him in ways he would not have experienced, had we not tried.

There were heartaches and joys in trying, but it was the trying that sharpened us all. There are no baseball pants that quite work for his build, but we got creative and he played…for part of a season, until he decided the outfield was meant for chasing his teammates to steal their ball caps to try to get them to chase him. I wept when we had to make the decision to bench him because he just didn’t get it.

The basketball hoop was a bit too high and he had to play on his little brother’s team with second graders, but the week before the end of the season, he sank his first hoop, unassisted. And I wept when the entire crowd erupted into cheers and gave him a standing ovation.

But the look of joy in his eyes was exactly the same whether he was bench-warming or ovation-bowing. He was happy just to be included, even though he knew he was different and couldn’t quite master it like his peers did. He took joy in the process, not in the outcome. Perhaps it is us who, at times, just don’t get it.

He knows how to smell the roses along the way. Those joyful eyes see things differently.

So when society wonders if a challenged person should be treated differently or the same, the answer is, some of each…the same, as much as they are capable of; differently, to accommodate and adapt as much as needed to allow them to experience at least part of the process. It doesn’t take much to make them happy, and they understand more than we think. They have learned to be flexible and patient with others, out of necessity.

What kind of world would this be if we all saw life through those joyful eyes?

God, why do they say that 90% of all babies who test positive for Down syndrome in that new, first blood test, are aborted?

Let us not fear the salty tears of anguish which lead to the sweetest tears of joy!

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Hey, God…

The water was unusually low as I went across the bridge, an almost unsightly combination of colors and elements that was not the sparkling eye candy I am accustomed to enjoying at that time of day. Receded, the water left behind a visual cacophony of unsightly sea gunk. I was slightly disappointed not to see the usual whiz-bang scenery.

Upon closer examination, I noticed the once-hidden things now evident: fresh shellfish, elusively perfect seashells, sweet seaweed that nourishes the undersea life, and greater treasures in all their glory. I had greatly underestimated, and at first glance diminished, the true bounty of the unseen.

Oh, how we can be lulled into the comfort of what we perceive to be the eye-catching ideal, when so much more lies below, more than we can comprehend! We do this with things…with situations…with people. Take heed what our eyes are drawn to, that we don’t miss what is directly underfoot because we are comparing, expecting, supposing, idealizing, judging.

May we always be aware of the great riches underneath the glitter of that which we believe to be gold.

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Hey, God…

Today I read about a new drug that is showing promise in helping to “cure” Down syndrome. Do we really want to change those things that have been made perfect in Your image? You have said that our wisdom is but foolishness…and indeed, one can see the beauty and love in the face of any child with Downs, Your beauty, Your love. In weakness is Your strength, and many people have come to You through weaker people, as You touch us through them. They humble us, they teach us, they remind us of our priorities.

If people with disabilities did not exist, how would we learn and be humbled? What, then, would the order of our priorities be?

It is touted as scientific breakthrough, but at what point do we restrain ourselves from assuming we know what is best for another creation, just because they are different? Are we projecting our own fears upon them by thinking they must be suffering, when they may actually be perfectly content?

How can we possibly judge another’s perception of their quality of life?

Or are such “cures” merely for our convenience, to allay our fears and insecurities about suffering?

I am reminded of my food allergies, one of which is shellfish (ironically, despite my love of the sea). When others learn that I cannot eat, say, shrimp, I am inundated with expressions of pity and presumption, such as, “Oh, you poor thing! How awful for you! I bet that must be so hard not to be ABLE to eat shrimp!!!”

I don’t think of it as a disability…since the only shrimp I have tasted has caused such trauma and discomfort, I do not yearn for it; I am perfectly happy without it. It is not a pleasant thing for me to regret and miss, since I have not walked on the side of enjoying it. I am blissfully ignorant of the experience, thank you very much, and am perfectly happy with the rest of my diet.

Could it be the same for some others with certain disabilities, that they are entirely complete and fulfilled in the way they have been wonderfully made? Should we not carefully consider what projections we may have when we seek to “help” others and find cures?

Too, suffering has its place. It is not often sought, nor is it bearable many times…yet it blesses with gifts such as perseverance, tolerance, new coping skills, heightened sensory perception and deeper insight into others’ character and virtue, as well as our own. We find out quickly who our friends are, in our suffering.

Here on the seashore, I find broken shells, some of which are absolutely more interesting and beautiful than had they remained wholly intact. In the broken shells, you can see what they’re made of, you can see farther into them, you can see things you can’t see in their unbroken state. They are like snowflakes, each one entirely different from any other….a beautifully abstract medium that begs the imagination to fill in the spaces of its journey, its life, its purpose. The broken shell forces us to focus on those things outside our comfort zones, stretching and molding and growing us in ways we had not considered before. It demands that we pick it up and focus on it, instead of ourselves, instead of on the ideal, instead of on the perfect. Do we toss it back into the sea because it does not meet our standards?

God, may we have wisdom about and sensitivity to Your will. May we have the courage and zeal to embrace those things which we deem as difficult, painful and imperfect. May we resist the temptation to tamper with that which You have willed.

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“I don’t know what it is about the city,” the girl at the table behind us was telling her friends, “but it makes me feel so alive, so energized.”

I’d say it is the body’s natural response to the onslaught of heightened sensory input, otherwise known as adrenaline. It can be addictive, to be sure. 5 days in the city, and this Sea Muse was ready to return to the shore, to reclaim the quiet that makes another feel so alive, so energized. Once upon a time the city was an interesting, fun place, with local flavor and personality all its own.

Instead, this trip yielded a peek into a new sort of universe, one in which people have found entirely new ways to ignore each other.

Everyone had a Gadget which contained them in their own bubble of a universe. Each Gadget was worthy of worship and adoration, to the exclusion of those around them. One could be shoulder to shoulder and forced into a situation of mutual survivalship by the sudden lurch of a standing-room-only bus, the unexpected meeting of bare skin with an unknown human-other, followed by the awkward, apologetic smile and hurried retreat back into one’s Gadget Universe, as if to right oneself.

People teetered between reality and virtuality, seamlessly navigating between both universes at will…but the level of investment in the reality of the moment was lessened, as if having to pause in reality between trips to Gadget Universe was a necessary evil, some mundane ritual that must be endured in order to achieve the next fix of time in Gadget Universe.

Somehow, it became the norm to tote around one’s Gadgets in order to be transported into one’s Gadget Universe at one’s convenience. Heaven help us if we had to actually interact in meaningful ways…people acted as if it was a good thing to ignore their fellow humans by making a trip into their Gadget Universe, be it endless browsing, voyeuristically watching other humans have meaningful interactions, drowning themselves in music, obtaining information that they might have obtained from a real person instead, or focusing intently on something to the point of missing the whole zeitgeist of their moment in reality.

And then there was the greed, the greed that drowned out the local flavor. Big fish swallows up little fish, and we lose the uniqueness of the little fish and have no choice but to contend with the big fish after that. This was most notable in local landmarks or traditions bought out by bigger, international brands who had no regard for the local need to maintain the local flavor. It was all washed up, diluted. Gone was the vivid flavor of what used to be, what made the city, That City. I could go anywhere and get the same thing, now. I am forced to be content with dillusion, my word for the disillusion created by the dissolution of uniqueness.

And I was dillusioned by the impenetrable bubbles created between people operating in their Gadget Universes.

I, too, was in a bubble; I used it to justify passing by the homeless people without stopping in a nearby store to by them a sandwich or something. I had to be somewhere by a certain time: the city demanded it, and my adrenaline fueled it.

I should have taken the homeless man by the hand into the cathedral with me, instead of noticing him sit just outside on the steps, waiting for them to serve coffee and pain au chocolate in the vestibule facing the steps to the street. I should have asked him to share my pew. Instead, I simply went through the motions with everyone else in our bubbles, and merely noticed that he quietly slipped out of the vestibule after having partaken in the beautiful spread just prior to the dismissal at the end of the service, before we Nice People came to share refreshment. I was glad he got something good to eat and drink.

But I had to pass by him on the way out, seeing him burying his head in his arms, crouched at the bottom of the cathedral stairs…the carillon chiming the time overhead…and I had to be someplace else. He was in his own Universe without a Gadget, and was probably all the richer than I.

On the way to the beach, I ducked down a staircase underneath the busy street above…and another man in his own Universe and without a Gadget, was lying on his side amid the stench of urine and in a heavy overcoat in 80 degree weather. His scraggly hair was matted and gray, face unshaven with sunken features…was he dead or alive? He, too, was probably richer than I, except I can’t quite tell how because I can’t always see over the hedge from my Gadget Universe.

Hey, God, I did not acknowledge you at the start like I have been…sorry…I was moved by my trip and eager to share. But I want you to transform me to conform to Your Universe. Let me have eyes to see, ears to hear…let me put down my gadgets to experience Your virtue-al reality.

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Spiritual Alignment

Hey, God…

Thanks for giving me the courage to ask how I can improve, and for giving me the motivation to integrate the information into my repertoire, with grace. Thank You for helping me put out all those fires today. You are the ultimate Extinguisher, restoring peace of mind among the ever-flaring embers. Thanks for the rip-roarin’ thunderstorm tonight, reminding me Who’s boss. Thank you for knowing my weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and for revealing them to me gently. Thanks for new opportunities and fresh beginnings, like the sun rising anew over the sea each day. Control my thoughts and actions, God, please make them align with Yours. Bless my absence here…I know I will need a vacation after this vacation, but renew me anyway, amidst the dizzying itinerary. Thank you for dizziness. Help me find calm when I return to my new spot on the beach. Thank You for saving my spot.

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Flexibly Grateful

Hey, God….

So the maintenance dude shows up this morning to install the blinds I requested (but in the wrong color: “Sorry, this was all they had for this size…”) in my new office. Somehow he knew nothing about the hot tub supposedly going into the  adjoining mystery closet that nobody’s opened in months, perhaps because no one’s really sure if it’s legend or fact that there is a sink with possibly-functioning-plumbing buried under the years of forgotten items behind that creepy door, and because he was accustomed to my sense of humor. I very much look forward to opening that door when I am in a peak purging mode, and exploring the possibilities. Evidently a hot tub was not one of the possibilities envisioned by my superiors. Eh, well…I am grateful for the pleasantly bright office with the restful view, much less and not to mention having a job. I especially thank you for that, God.

(Oh, my dear friend in the beach chair next to me…I have not told you what I do! I work and play with Very Upset Children. Some of them are angry. Some of them are haunted. All of them are precious. I have worked to mend broken souls for many years.)

God, I pray for the children I am leaving behind, for each of them to grow and succeed with my replacement, and I pray for the new ones You’ve entrusted to me. Thank You that I will be close, that I can still watch my former charges evolve daily as I tackle these new challenges. Give me wisdom and humility, as You have always taught me the biggest of lessons through the littlest of people. I also pray for the team in the trenches with these children day and night: give them strength, courage and insight as they help transform these betrayed souls into what society expects.

Thank you for making me move my beach chair to another spot; I was enjoying getting my feet wet with the rising tide in this spot – the water was warm and lulling – but I suppose it’s time to gather up my energy and submit to yet another dance with flexibility, lest my limbs fall asleep, getting relaxed and comfy where I was.

In the meantime, I will prepare for this change with the interlude of an absence. I hate leaving this seashore for any time, but again, change is good. I will look forward to being rocked to sleep by the rhythm of the rails once again, for the rails are deep in my blood. Nonetheless, I do not like being carried away from here, but isn’t perspective only gained once one stands back for a time? But how will I ever hear You above the din of the rails and then of the city? How I will long for the peaceful, familiar sounds of the sea!

But away I must go, with mixed regret and anticipation, and I will look forward to plopping back down in my chair here on the beach with You soon. Save me a seat, God, and please move my chair if the tide gets too high again while I’m gone. Just flag me down and show me where You put it when I come back, so I know where to go. And I will return refreshed and flexibly grateful for blinds of any color, and I will set about to conquer the legend of the buried sink. And we’ll mend some more souls together, You and me.

 

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