Sunday, September 12, 2021

Curiosity

 

People have always been curious about what is happening around them, particularly in their neighborhoods, groups, or even churches.  Have a police car pull up in front of a house on the street and curtains twitch, blinds get lifted just a bit, and suddenly the table in front of the window needs dusting desperately. Phones start ringing from house to house as people check with their neighbors to see who can see what and if they know anything about what’s going on. Ambulances provide the same sort of thing, although often there is some concern about what has happened.

The curiosity factor,  I think, is due to instinct. Before the days of home security systems, police or community watch programs, watchtowers, and even a single person from a small group tending a fire and being vigilant for attacking enemies, thieves, and ferocious (and hungry) wild beasts. The sound of a small rock falling, a twig or small branch breaking, or some unfamiliar noise could mean the difference between life and death.

Indeed, this inquisitiveness has brought us almost every advance in our cultures and technology, from harnessing fire to land on distant moons and planets. Science is suspicion or questioning harnessed to attempt to understand how the world works and how to use nature and natural substances to make life better. It also creates the search for new and better ways of doing things, making things last longer, and cure more injuries and diseases. Sometimes necessity drives curiosity, like searching for vaccines like those for COVID and other diseases and conditions.

There’s the old saying about “Curiosity killed the cat,” not one of my favorite sayings. Still, there have been lots of animals (and people) who got nosy about something new and different or, like a crow, seeing something shiny and taking it back to the nest. People pick up a shiny rock or seashell, turn it over and over in their hands and either toss it back to the ground or put it in their pocket to take home and investigate more closely with a magnifying glass or more focused light.

Sometimes, I think it is a bit funny that the term “Intelligence,” meaning knowing what others are doing, thinking, planning, or building, is really a semi-sanctioned form of nosiness about what’s going on in the neighbor’s back yard. We love watching Miss Marple or Lord Peter Wimsey snoop about, picking up clues, and eventually solving murders and other mayhem. Curiosity about how something works or learning a fact about something new can lead anyone to the library (or Google) to dig up information on a topic that develops into either a passion for a new subject or, at least, enough information to satisfy the itch the initial fact or report began.

I’m pretty sure curiosity about Jesus was one of the main reasons people journeyed, sometimes long distances, to find out who this person was that they had heard about through word of mouth from others.  Perhaps they heard someone quote one of Jesus’s teachings, or maybe it was the recounting of a miracle he had performed that caused them to want to hear and see more. Even after they had experienced Jesus for themselves, they weren’t always satisfied that somebody had scratched the itch they had initially felt.

Many came back, and others followed Jesus from place to place. It wasn’t only men who joined the followers. Women of means also traveled with Jesus and the disciples, buying them food and perhaps lodging. In return, all they asked was to continue hearing these words that spoke to them so clearly and deeply.  Chances are, the women had done what Jesus told the rich young man to do – to sell all they had and follow Jesus, supporting the poor and even the Master himself. Their initial curiosity had been satisfied, and it became the focus of their lives.

What drives your curiosity? Have you ever had a moment of inquisitiveness that piqued your interest and led to a change in your life? What made you take an interest in the Bible, Jesus, or religion in general? Have your questions been answered, or have they fostered more questions to which you are still seeking answers? How could you promote a curiosity about Jesus in others?

The disciples’ and others’ initial curiosity about Jesus eventually led to death for some of them, but they stayed faithful. Thousands are still facing death every day for their faith. I’ve noticed that many Christians are positive about Heaven and their desire to be there, yet they do whatever they can to prolong their lives here on earth. I wonder – what would Jesus think about that?

I’m curious about many things, many of which I may never have my itch relieved by some type of intellectual Benadryl. I still have my inquisitiveness and often raise a prayer of gratitude for computers that allow me to check things without going to an extensive library far away or even getting out of my pajamas. I’m ready for Heaven whenever God pushes my “Eject from earth” button. Meanwhile, I will investigate, like my cats, any new thing that comes across my path. That includes matters of faith, human nature, culture, and deficiencies in what we preach and what we actually do. That should keep me busy for a few decades.

Be curious.

 

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, September 11, 2021.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Thinking Ahead to Harvest

 


One Sabbath while Jesus was going through the cornfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them.  But some of the Pharisees said, 'Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?'  Jesus answered, 'Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?'  Then he said to them, 'The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.'— Luke 6:1-5


It's September! Summer weather will be with us for a while yet, but we've only had 20 days of 110°F or over (compared to 50 for last year). We've had more rain than all of last year's monsoon, and there is a possibility of more to come. Halloween decorations (as well as fall ones) are up in the stores, which assures me the year is moving on. While most of the trees around here don't turn color, some do have leaves that fall – eventually, even if it's Christmas Day!

September also reminds me that the time for seasonal fruits and vegetables to change. I know it isn't the strawberry season, but I can still get them in the store if I really crave them. I saw some mincemeat in a jar at the store the other day, which reminds me I can now have tarts whenever I want to make them. It's time for Glade and Febreze to start pushing their fall and winter scents to make up deficits (and cover others) in our homes. And it's time to start thinking of harvesting grains and the like that will be ripening more by the day. 

The story of Jesus going through the cornfield reminded me of September, even though I'm a few miles from the nearest cornfield, which will soon be a Halloween maze.  Corn is always a welcome food, boiled, grilled, creamed, or used in succotash or cottage pie. It's best when it's fresh, and people in the store rummage through the bins of unshucked corn, checking for readiness. The disciples must have found ripe corn or even corn beginning to dry on the stalk because they rubbed the ears in their hands to loosen the corn for eating. 

Naturally, the Pharisees were on hand to check for any rule-breaking or blasphemous or heretical teaching. I wonder, didn't they ever get tired of following a group they felt were troublemakers, studiously writing down everything they felt had been said or done wrongly, and getting sore feet for their trouble? Anyway, They caught the disciples doing work on the Sabbath, and that was a major infraction. 

Jesus, as usual, had a reply for the accusers. He reminded them of David on campaign with a group of his army, taking the Bread of the Presence* from the tabernacle and eating it. Looking up Bread of the Presence, I was surprised to find that in addition to bread that did not get stale or moldy for a week and that each loaf (of which there were 12) weighed about five kilograms or eleven pounds! The point was that hungry men deserved to be fed and that some of the grain (and probably corn) in the field were left for gleaners, poor people who could gather up what they could to help them feed their families until the next crop. 

We don't usually see farmers leaving a portion of their crop at the edges of the field for poor people to salvage. If they don't grow it themselves or have the money to buy it at the store, then they don't deserve it, at least, in the minds of a good many contemporary people. Most of the harvesting is done by machine, and another device gathers the crop. Machines don't usually leave much behind as they cover the field, several rows at a time. 

Food pantries have replaced gleaners, and they have fresh food and canned, dried, and packaged types. For the poor, those pantries are lifesavers, but those who use them are shamed at having to ask for things their meager budgets won't cover. It isn't only the holidays that food banks and pantries need help from those who can afford their groceries and still have money left over, but from donations from kind folks who know that hunger goes on 365 (0r 366) days a year. Corporations donate from their stock, churches, schools, and stores hold food drives. Even children canvass their neighborhoods, asking for help for those who sorely need it.

It's time to start thinking about those who can't walk through fields and gather leftover grains and vegetables. Jesus reminded the Pharisees that he, as Lord of the Sabbath, permitted feeding those who were hungry. If we remember our Gospel stories, we will think of other times when Jesus fed hungry people, using food given by others.  

What if we were ourselves hungry? How would we cope? Saying that people in that condition should get a job, but is that the solution? Think of those working several jobs at low pay because that was the only work they could get. Think of working mothers who have the burden of paying for child care along with bills to pay. Think of the disabled and elderly who have limited resources. Is asking for cans of food, boxes of pasta and cereal, jars of peanut butter and jelly too much? Jesus said it was not just okay but necessary. In fact, it's all through the Bible for those who care to look and to hear.

God bless. 


*For more information on the Bread of the Presence, please see the article at Chabad.org. 

PS. For more info on corn, please see Wide Open Eats. 

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café  Saturday, September 4, 2021.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Family Cemeteries

 

Then he charged them, saying to them, 'I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors—in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah— the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites.' When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.–- Genesis 49:29-33

July 4th always brings me memories of celebrations back home, most of all, those with family and friends, both living and dead. Although my family never made trips to the resting place of many of our relatives, both close and extended, we did go a few times each year to visit, plant or replant flowers, tidy up the area around the gravestones, and tell stories. Even though many of our relatives did not attend the then-tiny church where the cemetery was, it was important for many family members to rest there among their parents and relatives. I notice that the church has grown in size, and the number of relatives interred there has grown as well.

This morning's Eucharistic Reading finds the Israelites still enslaved in Egypt. Jacob, the patriarch of a large and growing family, was dying and called his sons and their offspring to his deathbed to bless them and to give his final wishes.  He wanted to lie in with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and his first wife, Leah, in the place Abraham had bought from the Hittites.  The place was named Machpelah, near Mamre, in Canaan. It was like the family cemetery.  

Joseph then went to the household of Pharaoh and asked them to request that Pharaoh allow him and his family to take Jacob to his desired resting place with his ancestors. With permission granted, Joseph, his brothers, and many Egyptians undertook to travel to Machpelah. Joseph and the others stayed there seven days, mourning and weeping, then returned to Egypt. I find it interesting that so many journeyed to a land that was to be their homeland, yet they returned where their children and herds had remained. They stayed there another 110 years before it was time for them to go and claim Canaan that God had promised Abraham.

One sentence in this passage touches me: "When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people." Somehow the image of drawing up his feet and peacefully dying has such a poignancy about it. To me, it represents a death many of us would wish. Yet, it has been denied to so many, especially in the time of the continuing pandemic, war, and violence. 

This passage caused me mentally to revisit the family cemetery back home. I have even found it courtesy of Google and can see it and the list of those buried there. I can mentally walk down the row of gravestones marking my adoptive family, from Mama and Daddy to my brother and an aunt and uncle, with room for my sister-in-law when her time comes.  It is comforting to know just where they lie, and to be able to visit them, even virtually. It must have been comforting for Joseph and his kin to know that Jacob was laid among his ancestors as Joseph would be himself. 

Do you have a family cemetery? Do you visit on occasion? What does "Gathered to his ancestors" mean to you? Is it even important these days? 

As dearly as I love my family, it becomes less and less critical to me where my ashes will lie. I do pray I will be able to draw up my feet and die peacefully. My faith teaches me that it is less important where I will be buried than it is that the promise of Heaven and a single small room in a mansion with those I love. Somehow that is comforting – even if I'm not in any great hurry to get there. I want a few more visits to the family cemetery, even if I have to do it from a couple of thousand miles away.

God bless.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, July 10, 2021. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Looking and Overlooking

 

It was just an ordinary day. The boys were doing catly things: Phoebe sleeping in a cool part of the bedroom, Dominic sleeping on the floor, and Gandhi watching me chew on tortilla chips. Undoubtedly he was hoping for a nibble or two as he sat staring at me with his tail curled tidily around his feet, its tip hovering over the floor near the vent that blew out cool air. Naturally,  I couldn’t resist, so I broke off a small piece of chip and tossed it in his direction. After a slight bounce, somehow, it landed right at the very end of the slightly upraised tail. It was so light he didn’t even notice it—at first.

I had to laugh as I watched him look and sniff around his immediate area, knowing there was a treat there somewhere. Meanwhile, a white chip was still lightly sitting on the end of his jet-black tail, as evident as a single star in a very dark sky. As I watched him, I remembered the times when I put something down and a few seconds later spent minutes looking around to find where I’d put it. Keys, the lid to the jar I make iced tea in, a screwdriver, my phone, the proper sized knitting needles – all of them at some time or other have been marks for me to find after laying them down for just a second or two. Thinking of that made me wish I had a nose like Gandhi’s, one so eminently suitable for sniffing out things for which he is looking.

That led me to think about how easy it is to overlook things. I’m still looking for a ring box I mislaid a couple of years ago. I’m glad my glasses are a pretty much permanent part of my face, or I’d be searching for them (and with my eyesight, probably overlooking a dozen times before I put my fingerprints all over the lenses and recognized I’d found them). Gandhi’s nose wouldn’t help with those, I’m afraid. Maybe if I put them on top of a bag of cat treats, it might help, although I don’t find the scent of those nearly as appealing as my boys do.

If I so often overlook things for which I’m searching, how many things I’m not looking for or even thinking about escape my notice? I mean, something like homeless people, an errand I could run for a neighbor who doesn’t get out much or taking the time to listen when I’m with someone who really needs an ear to hear whatever they need to talk about.

I have to consider the story of the woman in Luke 15:8-10 who loses a coin and then sweeps the whole house searching for it. I’ve been there and done that, thinking that the search would be much easier if I decluttered a bit.  Sometimes I’ve found whatever it was, many times I haven’t, although the house is definitely cleaner than it was. I’ve been known to clean the same area half a dozen times because I remember seeing it or running across it in that area sometime previously. Poor St. Anthony must think I have him on speed dial, but more times than not, he does help me out in finding the phone or the keys, if not the ring box. Unlike the woman, though, I don’t run outside, inviting all and sundry to party with me because I’ve found something that was lost. I have resolved to be more careful in the future with whatever I’ve recovered, and I’ve remembered to thank St. Anthony (and God).

Maybe I should remember that often I find things I wasn’t looking for at the time but had been searching for a day or so before, like the little needle markers for my knitting or some lotion I know I had somewhere, just not where. Maybe I should spend more time praying about essential things than where I put my favorite pen. Perhaps I should remind myself frequently to pay attention to the world around me and what needs I could fill if I just noticed them?

For what have you been overlooking or searching? What have you done to find whatever it is? What would make you see the things that you may have overlooked?

Oh, Gandhi did find the chip after a minute or two. I guess persistence pays off.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, July 3, 2021.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Gift of Tears

 

I often listen to the radio in the car when I'm driving, and it's always the local classical station. I've been a classical fan since I was a child – an odd bird in a family who liked Country-Western (my brother), Lawrence Welk (my parents), and hymns/Gospel music (many of my relatives). I have several hundred CDs of classical music, primarily Baroque religious works, and I have an iPod that I've loaded up with almost all of them. I used to listen to my iPod at work since playing classical religious music was definitely out of the range of tolerance as much as if I had wanted to play opera or Taiko drumming.

Today, as I was driving, the radio station began playing an aria, one of Luciano Pavarotti's most famous solos, "Nessun Dorma." It's from an opera (and I'm not a fan of opera),  but this aria (and maybe one or two others) never fails to put a catch in my throat. I have no idea what makes me so sensitive to this piece when even some of my very favorites fail to cause tears to get no further than my eyelashes.

Tears are quite often a sign of sorrow, grief, physical or emotional pain. Babies can wail at the top of their lungs but don't always produce tears. The wailing is a sign that something is not going their way and they would like it fixed quickly, thank you very much. There are happy tears, like the bride's mother sheds at her offspring's wedding. Proud parents have tears flowing down their cheeks at first communions, baptisms, graduations, and any time their children mark a special event or achievement. People cry at special events, whether to mark horrendous tragedies or outstanding achievements. Birth, death, and all sorts of things between those two milestones are reasons for tears.

Some churches take special notice of tears and why they are shed. Roman Catholics call it the "Gift of Tears" when someone is moved to cry because the liturgy is so beautiful that they feel overwhelmed or feel particularly close to God. St. Ignatius was one of those. On a visit to Auschwitz, Pope Francis asked God for the gift of tears for all those put to death due to barbarity and anti-semitism. He wanted to show his repentance and desire for a world where anti-semitism and hatred will come to be as the Holy Trinity want it to be.  Although not an official "Saint," Margery Kempe was singularly blessed with the gift of tears often and frequently very loudly when she contemplated her sin, the glory of God, and the redemption offered by Jesus. She was one of the more extreme cases, but many saints and Saints shed tears at prayer or in contemplation.

The Gospels state that Jesus shed drops of blood and sweat while he prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane, but would it not be possible that he shed tears of anguish also? We know he wept at the tomb of Lazarus and as he contemplated Jerusalem from the mountaintop. I'm sure there were other times as well. I wonder if he ever shed tears of frustration when people, even his disciples, didn't get what he was trying to get across to them?

Being one who has not been given the gift of tears, I often envy those who can seemingly shed them at the drop of a sad movie ending or the thought of a loved one passing or who has passed. I choke up at some songs, the beauty of a cathedral or a sunlight-dappled forest, even watching a horse race. Why a horse race? The animal is beautiful in motion and could so easily break down or be injured to the point of death. Why can't I at least leak a few tears when I see pictures of people suffering from famine, war, natural disasters, or plagues? I hate seeing children in need, elders in great pain because their children want every possible modern intervention to keep Mother or Dad with them just a while longer, or animals who have been the subject of cruelty some human being thought was fun. Things like these tear my heart and often drive me to prayer, but tears? Not a one.

Where do you see the gift of tears in your life? Do you share tears with loved ones at family events?  Do disasters causing significant loss of life affect you? Do beautiful things make tears well up in your eyes?  What about when you think about your sins or guilt? Does the thought of the sacrifice of Jesus for those sins and guilt bring you closer to tears?

Tears can be cleansing, healing, and even uplifting. Even for adults, it's okay to cry; we don't have to be stoic about everything. Let God love you, beauty touch you, and relief wash over you. If Jesus could weep, why can't we? I bet even God has shed tears from time to time. We have that capacity, and we are made in God's image.

Think about it.

God bless.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, June 26, 2021.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Don't Worry

 

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.  – Matthew 6:34

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a world without worry, anxiety, or fear? I know I do, and quite frequently. In the world I live in, there are fears of being destitute, not being able to feed my furry kids, amassing any more debt than I already have, being unable to pay my bills, or having severe medical problems with subsequent and overwhelming bills. I’m sure there are a significant number of people with similar legitimate concerns. Yet, even uncertainty, without any immediate threats to well-being or status, is uncomfortable and cause for concern.

Jesus tells us not to worry about what is to come; it will come soon enough. He reminds us of the birds and other natural living things. They react to immediate threats but otherwise seem to take life as it comes, moving a bit further along if forage becomes sparse or nests blow out of trees with high winds. Some trees undoubtedly experience some form of pain when wildfires strike, yet it can be those very same fires that bring conditions that allow for seeds and cones to find life in the newly-cleared ground. Vegetation doesn’t worry about anything, while animals and avian life are always cautious; danger might be right around the corner. These members of the natural world instinctively learn to flee from predators, fires, or even the sound of gunfire, but these are things they don’t worry about until something triggers an instinct to escape from life-threatening situations. Still, they don’t consciously worry the way human beings do.

I’m pretty sure only human beings actively choose to think about worries and fears. It’s part of their makeup as humans. Their brains are hard-wired to consider possibilities between the dangers of eating the sandwich in front of them or not. Who knows where the bread and ingredients have come from, who has possibly spread germs on it, how long it has been sitting on the counter, and the like. How often has the phrase, “Be careful crossing the street or you could be hit by a bus,” cropped up (or, in some areas, the injunction is more like “Wear clean underwear…”)? Then, there’s the one I remember from childhood, “Clean your plate; after all, children are starving in (insert country).” It made sense then, but seen through adult eyes, how could my stuffing myself or not wanting to eat something I didn’t like do anything to change the status of children possibly suffering from lack of food? I still ponder that if I leave something on my plate that I don’t want to eat.

Jesus lived in a world where people believed that there was only so much to go around. What one person got meant that someone else either didn’t get much or might have to go without altogether. Today we may say we don’t believe in limited resources and that anyone willing to work hard could move up the ladder to more wealth and comfort and less anxiety. Yet, not everybody can believe that.

When was the last time you read, heard, or thought, “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer”? The “self-made man,” someone who, through his/her own education, hard work, and motivation, becomes successful, usually in politics or business. Benjamin Franklin was said to have coined the phrase to describe his rise to fame and power despite being the son of a poor, unknown candlemaker. Frederick Douglass, born a slave and rose to prominence in writing, newspaper publishing, and as an Abolitionist leader among African Americans because of his motivation, hard work, and education. He also credited his involvement and interaction with others as part of his success. Each person he met or even passed on the street offered him something to learn. Each engagement with another person gave him an experience of what life could be like or perhaps an opportunity to help or be helped.

Jesus would undoubtedly note that both men were souls who not only worked their way up but found niches in realms where they helped a great many others. Yet, while both became successful, they each had struggles, worries, anxieties, and probably many fears at times. However, those fears and concerns did not stop them but instead taught them things that made them stronger and more determined to help others.

 I think the important thing that Jesus would want us to learn from the verse from Matthew is that worries will always be with us.  We should deal with what is on our plate now, not what will be for dinner tomorrow. In short, don’t borrow trouble. Much of what we worry about probably will not happen or, if it does, not to the magnitude of what we feared it might be. Instead of worrying about terminal cancer when the doctor suggests a lump or pain might need a little more investigation, perhaps we consider that it might be a small pocket of infection that antibiotics would cure, or a little liniment and rest might ease the pain and swelling.

My last decade or so has been less stressful. I’ve come to feel like God has a safety net under me. Even though I still have problems that seem insurmountable, I can solve them or find someone to help me overcome them. It’s funny how often I have what appears to be a perfect opportunity for a significant worry attack, but I can slide over it. I’m pretty sure God (plus Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a few friendly saints) has got me covered, so I’m counting on that.

What are you counting on to help with your worries and concerns? Be open to any opportunity to ease your anxieties. God will be there with you.

 

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, June 19, 2021

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Where Authority Comes From

 


Luke 20:1-8

The Daily Office Eucharistic Gospel for today leaves me with a lot of questions. But, of course, that’s not an unusual occurrence when I read various passages. Yet, this one catches my curiosity right from the beginning.

Jesus was teaching and “telling the good news” in the temple where ostensibly the people were listening and appreciating what he was saying. Who wouldn’t like hearing good news? There isn’t so much of it around that people can ignore it, can they? Yet, three groups of people:  the elders, chief priests, and scribes,  made their way to Jesus and openly questioned him about where he got his authority to teach such things. I know the temple officials were looking for false preachers who were encouraging belief in heretical theology; however, the temple was too holy to be open to those who preached such things.

As happened many times during Jesus’s life on earth, he answered a question with a question, turning the table on the officials and challenging them to respond.  Usually, the questions Jesus posed to his questioners dealt with judgment on what appeared to be something other than related to the original query. On this occasion, Jesus asked the officials about who told John he should baptize people? Where did the authority come from? It was a very canny question as it put the questioners in a quandary. If they said “heaven,” they would legitimize John as prophetic. As a result, his teachings would gain even more popularity and more followers every day. If they said “earth,” the followers of John would rise up and very possibly stone the religious leaders who refused to accept John as a prophet, a stance that many people believed in wholeheartedly.

The temple leaders could only answer that they did not know where John’s authority came from, which was an admission that they could not confirm or deny the question. This situation called for a “Yes” or “No” answer., “I don’t know” was not one that would win any points in an argument, like a draw in a chess game. Jesus’s words of “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things,” he gave the equivalent of “Checkmate” in two brief moves.

Another question that occurred to me was, where do we see this happening in our own time? Who has authority,  and where does it come from?  Religious sects and denominations, political parties, martial and judicial officials, and even groups like homeowners’ associations claim to have power and authority, yet where does this come from? Basically, it comes from the group that serves as an electoral board or some other group representing all those who claim allegiance to the person, group, or party seeking to be put in charge by a majority. Much of the time, the majority of the whole group decides the outcome. Still, now and again, the minority continues to fight to overturn the decision. Some groups may claim their authority comes from God, but can we always trust whether that is actually true or not? Do their words sound like words from God? Do the actions of the group mirror Godly acts? Do their fingers point at others to distract from their own shortcomings, or do they speak of God and the good works of God’s people?

The people in Jesus’s time would have had to make up their own minds as to whether or not John, or Jesus, for that matter, were telling the truth and were who they claimed to be. We have the same choice, based on the same information. As for others who seek to influence people and lure them to their particular faith, party, or group, we must ask our own questions and weigh the answers we receive. Will we select those who choose to lead us to good words and actions, or will we choose self-serving people who care only for themselves and those who support them?  Do we follow those who direct us to heaven or earth?

We have to choose wisely.

God bless.

 

Originally published under the title "Authority" at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, June 12, 2021.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Contemplating Dreams

 

I seem to dream a lot more than I have for years; the Lord only knows why. I went for years without dreaming or remembering that I did dream, much less what it was about. Maybe getting older has something to do with it, but it can be enjoyable, fun, scary, informative, or reminiscent. Sometimes it seems to be a mere story I’m involved in, but at other times it makes me think during the next day or so about what it meant or was trying to teach me.

When I began studying the Education for Ministry (EfM) program in 2005, I was introduced to many different ways of deepening my spiritual life through various types of prayer, contemplation, meditation, and reflection. Over the years, I have found that writing has been one way I felt my spirituality growing and deepening. When I wrote about dreams that I had had that seemed to stick with me even after awakening, I gained new insights into my beliefs, thoughts, and life itself.

One morning I woke after a particularly vivid dream. I’m not sure how it started, but I remember being a slave in China at some point in its history. I was sent to a temple to work. I was given the job of moving a large porcelain turtle from a stand to a cart. I tried to lift and balance it for transfer, but it slipped and shattered on the floor.

I remembered that I was a slave with no rights, no ability to speak, and only harsh words and beatings to look forward to. I knew breaking the turtle would earn me many stripes from the canes and lashes, and that I might die as punishment for being careless, unlucky, or perhaps even overburdened for my size and age. Yet, as terrified and also as sorry as I was at the time, I felt I needed to be humble, to accept my fate, and to try to move without collapsing or staggering. I woke up at that point and spent most of the day trying to coax the ending out of my subconscious, to no avail.

Where did this scenario come from? What was it trying to tell me?  I knew that as a slave, I had no choice as to what I could do, as overseers and others beat people such as me to the point of complete submission. However, the humility I felt was coming from something else, like I had heard someone speak of a sage who encouraged humility from everyone, regardless of their status. It didn’t feel like I had heard of Confucius or any other holy person calling for such action. Still, as a slave, I would not have had the opportunity to hear much of anything other than curses and orders. Was my resignation to my punishment simple capitulation?

What I remember from the dream was that behind the resignation and hopelessness, there was still a glimmer of something, a feeling that someone or something was behind me that was greater than I and that even if I suffered and died, it would matter to someone greater than any of those who would execute me. Of course, I had never heard of God or Jesus, for that matter. Still, as I thought about the dream, it seemed that that moment in time was when I first became aware that even if I were utterly insignificant in the world, I still mattered to God.

I know I was supposed to learn this lesson from my early days. After all, hadn’t one of the most sung Sunday School songs been “Jesus Loves Me”? Yet when I went upstairs to church services, I was continually reminded that I was a sinner, no matter how good I tried to be, and that God did not like sinners. It was a lot for a small girl to take in. It took many years and experiences to even get to the point where this dream would have any meaning for me other than to put me in the place of a slave to learn how hard and dismal such a life could be.

Revisiting this dream has once again allowed me to mine it for other insights. But, unfortunately, I cannot pretend to understand or empathize with those who actually lived and suffered as slaves, even those closer to my own time or in the area where I grew up. Try as I will, and as much as I read about slavery and its ramifications, I still can only imagine what it would be like, much less truly feel the pain and suffering. Perhaps that is something I am supposed to consider more – what it meant to people of that time on both sides of the color line, and how it now needs to be revised to accept all people, regardless of color, ethnicity, and so many other characteristics, as equal, Children of God, and worthy of being accepted as such.

I’m impatient to see what the next dream brings me. I know that I still have much to learn in the time God gives me on this earth. Maybe I will finally have all the answers when the end comes, or perhaps it will just be another learning opportunity. The older I get, the more curious I get about that. Meanwhile, I will continue dreaming and contemplating.

God bless.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, June 5, 2021.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Jolts of Joy

 


The renovations at my house are over, and now I'm putting the rest of it back in some order. I do love my new shower. I wish I could refurbish a few more things, but I'm not sure I'm anywhere near ready to move items around and block off part of the house so that the boys won't wander where they shouldn't.

I found something joyful during this process that I hadn't experienced for quite some time. It was such an unexpected feeling that I found myself looking forward to its repetition whenever possible. It is a simple something that I can enjoy from the comfort of my rocking chair and not have to go wandering about to find it. Of course, it doesn't last long, but even a few minutes of what I've begun calling my "Jolt of joy" is enough to lighten my mood and lift my heart.

I have some prisms in my living room window on the northwest side. The tree outside is quite a bit thinner of branches this year, so I get more direct afternoon sun. Now and then, in the late afternoon, the sun hits a prism, and I find a spot of a rainbow on the ceiling. Soon there are more dots of prismatic color, and my heart soars. It's simple to sit there and look at them without thinking of anything but instead just letting my mind open up to the beauty I see. It becomes a time of contemplation which I'm beginning to count on as a God-given period just to be, see, and enjoy.

Prisms are pieces of glass that take the light and break it into seven distinct colors that make up a rainbow. Every child in school learns at some time or other to use the mnemonic of ROY G BIV to remind them of the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet we see as the light passes through angles and planes of glass. Noah built an ark in the First Covenant, gathered up his family and representatives of all the animals, and put them inside the ark as God commanded. Then God sent enough rain to flood the entire earth, drowning the land, animals, birds, and even all the people except those in the vessel. When the land emerged from the receding waters, God put a rainbow in the sky as a visual sign of God's promise never to destroy the whole earth by flood again. I know I don't always think of Noah when I see a rainbow, especially a double one, but I can't seem to get enough of the colors while I can see them.

Rainbows remind me of natural stained-glass windows. In churches, public buildings, galleries, sometimes private homes, stained glass represents pictures, designs, and stories told in bits of colored glass used to teach and remind even the illiterate of things and people to be remembered when seen. I loved going to the National Cathedral to see the magnificent stained glass. One of my favorites is the Space Window, a blue-shaded glass representing the vastness of space, then a sphere that signifies the moon itself. In a clear-glass bubble is a dark shape that is an actual rock from the moon's surface. Other windows in other churches I have visited have been as complex and colorful as those at the Cathedral in D.C. or simple blocks and lines of color with no particular outline or shape. For me, it is all about the color.

It isn't all about rainbows and colors, though. I look out my window from my computer desk toward several trees across the street with their layers of green due to the natural colors of the leaves and the shades and hues the light of the sun gives them. I remember the vivid blue of the South China Sea and the dancing diamonds of the wavelets as they sparkled in the sun. I love the brilliant red of the Japanese Maple in fall, especially when it contrasts with other trees whose leaves are orange, yellow or even the many shades of evergreens. Then, there are the shaded browns and tans of the natural formations polished by wind and water in Antelope Canyon, or the white flowers of dogwood and pinkish-red of the redbuds I saw as I drove through the spring forest back home. I didn't know them as jolts of joy then, but now, as I remember them, their memories have sharpened over the years, and I've learned to see them as moments of beauty and color, things that represent joy to me.        

I think that for some people, joy might be diamonds, big houses, shiny new cars, trips to foreign places, or any one of a million things. For me, though, I've found the simple things (or sometimes more complex ones) remind me that joy is a gift to be treasured. I don't think God would have spent a lot of time creating a world without so many colors, shapes, textures, and sizes had God not enjoyed the process so much. So undoubtedly, I should take every possible moment to enjoy them and send up a small arrow prayer toward heaven to say, "Thank you."    

Where do you find your jolts of joy?

God bless.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, May 29, 2021.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Pressure

 


My son and daughter-in-law got me an Instant Pot for my birthday and Mother’s Day presents rolled into one. It’s an imposing thing, reminding me somewhat of the round bread maker I had some years ago that looked like R2D2, only this is a different color with no clear dome on top.

I often give my mechanical and electrical things names. For instance, my computer is TheaJane while the printer is Mabel (after a dear aunt who could talk the ears off a doorknob, every word worth hearing). If my machines misbehave or break down, the name is usually a word I won’t use here because it would offend a friend who has a donkey to whom we refer a lot in our EfM class. This new widget is too new to have earned a name yet, although I’m tending toward Darth since it scares the bejabbers out of me.

I’ve used electric frying pans, microwave ovens, electric grills, toaster ovens, panini grills, electric can openers, crock pots (slow cookers), and a few others, but Darth is in a class by himself. Darth cooks, sears, steams, makes yogurt, stews, and more stuff I can’t remember. It does, in addition, acts as a pressure cooker, and therein lies the fear factor. I have never used a pressure cooker, although Mama used one occasionally. Unfortunately, she died before she could teach me how to use one, and I don’t know whether to be grateful for that or not. My son, however, has embraced the technology wholeheartedly and has joyfully used his for the past several years. I feel like a bit of a lousy mother to have to ask my son how to use one now. He’s become a kind of evangelist on the benefits of using his Instant Pot almost daily. I’m feeling a bit of pressure to take the step – after I read the book I bought to tell me how to use the thing without blowing up the house.

I was actually only joking about my son being an evangelist for this kind of cooking. He doesn’t get enthusiastic about culinary things very often. But, since he does most of the cooking in his house, I tend to listen to what he has to say. I’ve had contact with many kinds of evangelists in my life, so I tend to pick who I listen to as well as the subject they’re recommending, whether it’s an appliance, a philosophy, political stance, financial investment, diet, or religious belief.

The word “evangelize” causes me to react much as the word “pressure cooker” does. I understand what it means, and how it works, and that it can be a very beneficial thing. Jesus didn’t know about pressure cookers, but he did know about evangelism. It was his stock in trade, so to speak. He was earnest and honest, interesting to listen to, and interested in listening to others. He had a message to sell to the world, but he didn’t use the pressure tactics we see now. He could be scornful to those who refused to accept his message, but he would turn to others who were more receptive. It was more persuasion than coercion. But, of course, he died because of pressure, a fear that he was a threat to not only the empire but the Temple, its structure as well as its hierarchy.

We’ve had our share of pressurized politics. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to go away. Pressure is the mechanism to convince followers and skeptics that red is green and the loser is really the winner. The current government will take everyone’s guns away and, by the way, their hamburgers and beefsteaks, and any number of dire consequences.  I hear that social justice is socialism in very thin disguise, and the more that is given to the poor, the less the rich will get, and that isn’t the way God wants it. Is this the message that Jesus brought us? 

Something that has been running through my brain with all the thoughts about pressure is that nothing ever changes without some form of it. So when is pressure good, and when is it destructive? It may be suitable for making a fantastic boeuf bourguignon, but how much does a concept, ideal, or even a necessity need to make a beneficial and change to a mode of thinking in line with the teachings of Jesus?

Sooner or later, I will get the hang of this new (to me) way of cooking, but will I ever be able to see what is right and good through what amounts to what I could see while trying to look through the pressurized water coming through a fire hose right in front of me? Yes, I know that prayer, Bible reading, listening to wise preachers and theologians, and simple faith answer the question. Unfortunately, for years, I followed the wrong ones. It was pressure to understand the Bible one way and quote specific verses in a literal manner to prove that this particular thing was sinful. At the same time, another one approved of something else that is now almost universally condemned.

Some of the things that changed my perspective nearly 180-degrees felt (and still feel) a bit like I am under that fire hose, while others came as gently and gradually as a stream gently flowing into a pond. I still may  be wrong about some things, but I don’t feel the pressure so much any more. I guess maybe I’ve surrendered to God, and if I feel resistance to something, I don’t let the pressure get to me. Instead, I think, read, listen, and pray about it, and then just let God take over. It saves me a lot of headaches.

Now to turn Darth over to God – and the stuff I’m reading in the guidebook on how to use it. Today boiled eggs, tomorrow boeuf bourguignon.