Monday, August 22, 2011

fierce with reality

In order to make our life fully real and truly ours we need only to embrace its truths. When we truly accept all that we are, all that we have done, and all that has been our history and experience, then and only then can we be - to adopt the phrase of Florida Scott Maxwell - "fierce with reality." There is no substitute for this fierce engagement with reality when one seeks to live life fully. (quote from David Benner's book, Soulful Spirituality.)

For 35 years after I gave birth and released a baby to adoption I thought I could put it behind me and move on. In fact, much of the Christian talk I heard (and gave :0) was about God washing away our sins and hurts and moving us forward, clean and new. The old behind us is dead, we are new.

What is wrong with this is it takes the metaphor of soul cleansing too far, into an unhealthy realm, really. Because as we lop off the 'bad' or sad bits of our story, we lop of parts of ourselves. And in the end, we need those parts.

Rarely, a person would engage me in spiritual conversation that created space for my story of a lost child to bubble up, and a comment would be made: 'you need to find that person!' I would think, Why? What difference will it make? Just curiosity? I do not allow myself curiosity. It is not my right." I did not wonder, except rarely, usually on birthdays, and I did not see much benefit to a reunion. It would not change anything.

But a longing I didn't even recognize grew. We are hungry people, all of us - hungry for many things and rarely mindful enough to actually identify them. These hungers of mind and soul haunt us, until we find ourselves standing with the fridge door open, cold air sinking to our feet, saying, "Hmmm. What do I need?" And we pick out a piece of lemon meringue pie, or a beer. But the hunger remains. Unnamed. Wanting.

The experience of meeting Mark has been and is fierce with reality on so many levels. The spiritual healing is simply this - that I am brought back into wholeness. Not wholeness like no limping or wounds. Wholeness like all my parts together in one place. I discovered the experience of my unplanned pregnancy is not any more a 'sin' experience than any other experience of human life. It is marked by greatness and ordinariness, brokenness and blessing. And I came to find that God was with me, deeply accepting and loving me through it all, working to redeem and remove roadblocks for me and Mark. And that I NEED that time of lost-ness to be located consciously and vibrantly in my soul, to be well and whole. Wellness is not perfection. It is a fierce reality.

What has happened to, in, and by us is ours to transcend and integrate. The deep work of spirituality is to discard the many selves we are trying to re-invent, and become the self we are. Our true self is unique, but not a uniqueness we choose. (More on this later.)It is a uniqueness deep within that we disclose, with greater courage and love, as we grow in openness. And this is the easy load Jesus talks about. Being your own true self is the elegant art of simple, integrated living.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Just had a call from my son in Indonesia. He was telling me about a new game Blaise, the grandson, learned in school. The game is called, loosely translated, "Big Healthy Eels."

There are three buckets with a bunch of eels in each one. The goal of the game is to get as many eels in your team's bucket as you can. (Not sure the actual procedure of the game but it is, apparently, raucous, physical and tons of fun.) At the end of the game they count how many healthy eels are in each bucket, since, apparently, some die or are mortally wounded. The goal is to move the eels without killing them. I wonder if they then cook the eels for cafeteria lunch. Hmmmmm

Just so the kids aren't mortally wounded.

Once again I realize how different various cultures are. And I have to say, I am delighted my grand-kids are having these experiences. In Calgary all we can offer is Snakes and Ladders. Just imagine - "Big Healthy Bears." Or "Big Healthy Mountain Lions." Nope. We will stick with Snakes and Ladders.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

tale of two lives

A world traveler friend met a woman in a nun's habit, in Egypt. Her name is Mother Magda, and she was surrounded by children who call her Mammie Maggie. To his great surprise he encountered her again last week in Calgary, Alberta, and heard her speak. This is from his notes which he just sent me:

Marilyn..her address was riveting , suffused with strength and humility…she spoke of her privileged, well heeled, family upbringing in which she was exposed to and experienced the best of everything including the best education in the country…she loved the ‘elegant life’ (food and music etc.) but has since come to see that the ‘true elegance’ is an ‘inner elegance’. She was told by the Lord to leave the best and brightest students and go to the poorest of the poor and then told to sell all she had and give it to the poor. She confessed how hard it was to endure the smells of the poor given her former genteel life. She was being breathed upon by the Holy Spirit to do this and began to immerse herself in scripture…she made the commitment to read the entire Bible every year which she has done for 25 years. She spoke of the true love which doesn’t give out of one’s extras but gives until there is pain..this kind of love washes the life, turns sinners into saints, heals the unwell, strengthens the weak and effects true forgiveness. I described her in my notes as a person filled with ‘affective Christocentricity’.(I found this picture of her.)She concluded by saying that whenever she goes to another country she bows down, kisses the earth and blesses the country. She asked to bless the church in a similar fashion she bowed down and kissed the floor and blessed the church..her lithely done prostrations were the same as those used by the Muslims in their prayers. Her organization is named after the martyr Stephen and is the largest ministry in Africa serving 27,000 families a day. She is surely living a ‘white martyrdom’.

Isn't the phrase, 'inner elegance' compelling?

And then I drove to work listening to a sermon aired on a local radio station. The pastor is the leader of a large church in Lexington. He spoke from the passage which tells the story of Peter walking on water in response to Jesus invitation, when Jesus came walking toward the disciple's boat in the middle of the night. He makes the point that we need to step out of the boat, using his own life as the example. His story, which is the story of being invited by God to take risks that inevitably led to establishing this church, has put him into the place of leading a large non-traditional church.

It may be that you or I feel drawn to one or the other of these stories. We might make judgments.

I ponder this as I walk into my office this morning, realizing again that each of us must listen to our own life, our own heart, and the whispers of divine calling within our own spirit, and neither envy another person nor demand that anyone else live as we have felt led to. The example may be inspiring but the details are unique. Each of us must own and love our own life.

Monday, August 15, 2011

hump day

So tomorrow is day 9 of the 17 day diet. No cheating. Just doing the thing.

I should not be surprised, but I am experiencing this to be much like a fast. If you have ever fasted you know the progression - you feel starving and miserable and ravenous and desperate. You get restless and even mad. You obsess about it. But after a while you grow calmer, gentler. And then you start to realize things. You realize the place food has in your life. You become aware of why you eat - usually not because you are hungry, and you learn that you can self-sooth even without your precious food.

Some people are great 'fasters'.They seem to love to take a severe tone with themselves and even thrive on denial. I am clearly not one of those people. I am closer to the epicurean. I love indulging myself in exquisite tastes and experiences. I can be full and still find myself enchanted by a glass display of tasty bits. Yes, I have made a few fasts, and value fasting, but I don't do it often.

Now, eight days into this crazy plan I find myself entering into some wisdom moments. I see how completely disordered my eating had become. I rarely tasted anything fully, was never satisfied, always on the hunt for more. Food had again crept up to be too important to me.

Yesterday I walked through the Fresh Market and sniffed and watched all the food and food preparation. The place is magnificent. Fresh, delectable, savory, wildly opulent - who gets to be in places like this? I have forgotten to be amazed. I was amazed yesterday. I bought a melon for $2.50. Someone worked hard to get that melon to me. Tonight's dinner will be mostly melon.

I have to tell you that I have been such a whiner about this. I have felt childishly deprived, cheated, aggravated, annoyed and just plain pouty. But my hope is that I am being reoriented. I don't want to be my own greedy pig about life.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

in love with the sky

The sky and I have had a long relationship. I am a gazer, and when I gaze, I love. I love this earth. I love being alive. I love getting lost in the vastness of mystery above me, and I love being a worshipper of a Creator God who seems to join me with delight while I gaze.

To be a human tied to this earth and yet able to look to the sky anytime I want is like a cosmic life direction. I am heavy on the earth but there is always the upward look calling me. Every day of my life. Doesn't that seem to be guidance, when you think of it? We are bound and yet unbound. We are limited and yet long for transcendence.

And with all that before us every day, calling us to more, we forget to look, to be amazed. We drive past a sunset with our visors down so we aren't bothered with glare. Amazing things happen every day and night in the sky and we mostly don't notice. Someone said, if there was only one sunset in a lifetime we would all stop our lives to look and be astounded. But this sign is so daily that it is ignored. (Maybe that is why a depressed person looks down.)

So yesterday when Steve told me we were in a place in the earth's orbit where a meteor shower will happen, best seen just before dawn, I set my alarm for 4:30. Steve said he would get up with me but that was not possible for him. He does not "do" 4:30 am. But I got up, surprisingly awake, dragged a large quilt and pillow out the middle of my backyard and gazed skyward.

Sirus clouds blocked the view at times but they were moving quickly. As I lay there I became aware of all that I miss. The dew was pushing glorious thick smells of pollen down to the earth and fragrance like gardenias and orchids and lilies pressed into me. One cricket chirped, but within an hour the whole garden was clicking and popping with sound. At about 5:30 I heard the first birdsong, as if the early bird had indeed gotten the worm. Beneath me the ground felt rock hard ... like cement. I felt wonder rise in me that this hard ground could produce everything we need to be alive and sustained. A vibrancy shivered down my spine and embraced all that is me. Morning had broken again, like it had every day for eons, and I was there, aware, in a corner of it, as much a part of life as everything else. My body was simply in life, not older, not with good hair or sore feet. Just alive.

My mind began to travel back to other nights like this. When my kids were small we lived in the far north - FAR north - and I would sometimes get them up from bed to lay on the picnic table in our backyard (the ground was too frozen and cold) in sleeping bags to watch the northern lights make love to the vast blackness of the cosmos. I thought back on the night after Rachel's wedding when, with another family, we laid on a back deck of a prairie farmhouse and watched a meteor shower that could only be rivaled by special effects. For two hours we had non stop fiery coals criss crossing from horizon to horizon, many with long tails and some seeming to fall into the next field. And yes, I once saw a meteor descend like a rocket into a field beside us. I was so sure of what I saw that I went out the next day to try and find it. Likely it was just dust by the time it hit, but the blaze didn't go out until the trees hid it from view.

Part of me is a little sad that science is discovering what everything is about, out there. But what does wisdom literature say? Something like, It is the glory of God to hide and the glory of man to uncover. Even where science triumphs, mystery remains.

When I have a raw experience of nature something happens in me. I lose the time bound limits of my little striving world and become a barefoot soul, part of everything that has been and will be - a living being in a time bound moment. All the deformities of my nature and character and life shrink before the vastness of the all that is. That was last night, outside, with the dew falling on me and all of nature on the move.

Oh yes. I also saw 7 meteors.

Friday, August 12, 2011

new seasons of life

Every time I think to write on this blog I run it past my internal editor. My internal editor is a very thin pastor's wife with a slightly burnt perm, glasses on the end of her nose, two dark thick hairs growing out of a mole on her chin and a ruler in her hand that smacks me on the head when I propose a provocative idea. She wafts by, leaving an odor a bit like over sweet fake perfume and is worried about what everyone thinks of her (us). I don't like her but she is useful, so I keep her around. She's a real prude around me but I have the sneaking feeling that when I am not looking she has a secret life.

So... there are lots of things I don't write, and topics I decide against. This is one of them, really. I want to talk about a new time in my life, but I don't want my kids to read it and feel any sense of needing to change or alter what they are doing. You see, my new season of being involves their new seasons of being.

So here I go.

My kids don't need me. STOP. NO. I know they 'need me' emotionally, and they love me and all that. But it is right and good that they are all owning their lives, making decisions without me, planning for a future that will not include me. Because I will be dead. That is the raw truth. In every arena of life this is enacted. Nothing grows on forever. Life is renewed by fresh life, new life - in short, the young. Old die and young are born.

I have finished doing my essential work to secure the continuation of the species. I have had young and raised them. Now they have young and are raising them. (Except in a dream last night - very vivid - I was pregnant at 55. A vivid and disturbing experience~!)

One of my friends told me that at our age we need to sit on the front porch of our kid's lives and yell at them through the screen door. I think it is more like this: we need to sit on the porch of our kid's lives and wait gently, until they yell out the screen door at us. And sometimes they will invite us in and have tea and tell us things but we shouldn't stay too long. A parent can overstay a welcome.

Every time I am with my kids I feel this. I know it is right and good. There are simply times and decisions in which we (Big Steve and I) are only adding bulk. And there are times we are plainly uninvited, not because we are a problem but because we are, well, the previous generation.

I am not hurt about this. I recognize this to be right and good. I know that as I let go of control everyone is happier. Really, what is happening is that I must take care of my own emotional needs and not put them on my kids. My daughter's friend group cannot be my friend group. My kids have to put their main focus on their budding families and the work of daily life they are embroiled in. The main work is not about me. Maybe the day will come when I will be so needy they will be in a place of paying attention to my needs. But not this season.

So... here is what I am feeling lately. And Rachel, do NOT feel guilty or call me or let this add to your life load. I miss my daughter. I miss that we are not calling and chatting or sharing life or laughing and telling stories. But I know that she is in the middle of a very intense time of spiritual struggle, negotiating life with her husband, managing and loving her emerging teen girls, holding down a job, trying to keep her body healthy, hosting her in-laws for a couple weeks at her home, keeping up with friends and participating in a budding church. I know that she loves me but we are not communicating and I miss that.

Now - if you are not my daughter but this is triggering all kinds of reactions in you - pay attention to your responses before you post a comment. I am truthful when I say that this is a good and growing place for me - quieting my heart down from my longings and simply being on the front porch of her life until she can find the time to invite me in, or come out and sit for a minute with me.

The last thing I want is for my kids to be burdened by my satisfaction. I want them to grin when they think of me. I can wait. And I am growing into a new season that is pretty cool when you think of it. I have more space, more quiet, more time to read and garden, and develop a few meaningful friendships. I can afford all the shoes I want.

When she has passed this whirlwind and steps out onto her porch, I will be sitting there. Not with a sarcastic comment about missing her. But with a calm heart and a cup of tea and a maybe a funny line. I want to do this season well. I am going to do it well. I will demonstrate love by being at peace with myself and not grasping at her life. This is love. This is good. Very very good. And I am still figuring it out.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

13 days to go

I am reading this book on the 17 Day Diet - and I have to say, I am starting to like this guy. He has all the usual stuff and good health information, but he also has some reality.

For instance - a whole chapter on the PMS diet in which you just darn well eat what you need to eat.

And the drink restrictions - particularly green tea. The advice is that green tea is best for you but if you hate it, have your cuppa coffee when you want.

And my favorite, and I quote, "6 Reasons Not to Freak Out about Being Fat."

1. Stronger Bones - a little meat on your frame can ward off osteoporosis. Weight bearing bones stay stronger. Those of us who are bigged bones are counting on this.

2. Healthier Hearts and Lower Risk of Diabetes - Women with larger thighs have a lower risk of heart disease and early death, says a study in the British Medical Journal. Love the Brits. I am going to live to be 110~!

3. Glowing Skin - recent twin studies have found that the sister with more weight was judged to have a more youthful look. A gaunt look can add years. I am personally aiming away from gauntness, although it is a challenge.

4. My personal favorite - Bigger Boobs. The more you weigh, the bigger they get. This is patently untrue. The only correlation is that when you lose weight you LOSE what precious boob cells you have. Gaining only gives you bigger thighs. See #2.

5. Increased Fertility - Underweight women were 72% more likely to miscarry, reports a London study. (Clearly the English have thought this all through.) A few extra pounds on overweight women had the effect of lowering miscarriage rates.

6. Faster Metabolism - More energy to operate bigger things. Which is great because the diet goal is to exercise 17 minutes per day. You get that big machine going and then it is time to stop. Works for me.

You gotta give this guy credit. He can encourage you whether you are big or small. I like that, frankly, because to a large extent we are what we are. I am now on day four of the 17 day diet. Big Steve is doing it with me, and that is funny to watch. I plop a plate in front of him - fish, a roasted tomato and half a zucchini, grilled. And he eats it. Must be a Christmas Miracle.

Friday, August 5, 2011

In five short days...

I ruined them.

My granddaughters came to me on Saturday in sparkling good health. I watched them, truly amazed at their good natures, humor, wit, adaptability, charm and utter joy of life.

This morning, one week later, sending them off to go home it was a complete opposite experience: meltdowns, sobbing, stomping upstairs, yelling, impatience, hurt feelings, ... and then start at meltdowns and read through the list again.

I can only conclude that I have, in a short seven days, wrought utter ruin.

If you have someone to ruin, I would suggest the following: late, or better yet, no bedtimes; feed them only pretend food which would include fast, fried, sweetened, and processed; avoid items such as milk, soy, anything green or red, and all legumes; say yes to every question; offer many times of low supervision; and a good dose of gifts and privileges. The human person can be corrupted in less than a week using this formula.

Sigh. My daughter is going to kill me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

If I Had Eight Hundred Billion Dollars (musical notes)

... I'd buy a new house...

No. No I wouldn't. If I had EIGHT HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS I would be cutting them from the US defense budget. Well, start at Four Hundred Billion but they expect to cut twice that. Hmmm, Mr. Speaker of the House, where will this leave us vulnerable? Is national security at risk?

I heard all about this on NPR, the left wing commie radio broadcast I wake up to every morning. Boy are those people hot about the economy. Anyway, I laid there with the great lump of Big Steve beside me, snoring into my right ear, and my NPR broadcaster droning on about the military cuts into my left, and I drifted into that half dreaming half thinking state.

What if we cut so much from the military budget that we couldn't fight anymore? What if there was no one to fly the plane to drop the bomb. What if Greece had to cut its military budget and so did North Korea. What would happen if there was NO MILITARY MONEY anywhere?!! Would those EIGHT HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS go to moms who are raising kids alone? Or to get braces for kids with teeth sticking out sideways? Or how about having medical care for everyone over 70? Oh Marilyn, stop being so socialist!!!

Okay, I thought-dreamed on. What if I had to cut EIGHT HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS from my very own defense budget. What would I cut? Oh, you didn't know I had a defense budget? I do and it is quite large. I spend it on protecting myself ... I use it to fortify my borders and protect my ass ets.

I could probably afford to cut some from my self righteousness budget that I draw from when someone criticizes me. I do have extra there. I could manage to cut some from my emotional energy stockpile that I dip into when I am feeling insecure and need to intimidate someone to make us (me) feel equal. Then of course there is the overspending on solid doors that I close on people who I imagine don't like me. Actually I have quite a defense budget.

So the US is going to cut EIGHT HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS from the defense budget. Hmmm. Bombs cost so much more than bread. Maybe we could drop bread instead of bombs just half the time - kind of a lottery where the bomber doesn't know what is loaded. That might equal EIGHT HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS.

I am not against the military. I will take my hat off to anyone who has paid a price for me to live in a country like this. My dream thinking is just wondering. Wondering what it would take to stop everything still for one minute. Kind of like Christmas morning in the song about Snoopy and The Red Baron. Just for one moment everyone stand still. No hurting, no killing, no hate. Deep inside I fear that we have gone past the tipping point and the one moment can never ever happen. Even without the extra EIGHT HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS.

Oscar Wilde said,

Young men want to remain faithful but can’t…
Old men want to be unfaithful but can’t.

I think it was Martin Luther who said (paraphrased from memory),
In his twenties a man is tempted by sex, in his thirties by money and in his forties by power. At fifty a man is tempted to think, 'my what a righteous man I've become.'

John Wesley said that
much of what we call holiness is simply old age.
(Now THAT is funny!)

Richard Rohr has a new book called, Falling Upward. One premise of the book is that the issues of spirituality in early life are different than those in later life. In early life, he says, we wrestle with the devil and with ourselves: sexuality, greed, lust, selfishness...stuff like that.

Then in later life we don't wrestle with the devil and flesh, we wrestle with God. Was it worth while to live for You? Who are You, anyway? Maybe nothing matters. This is a selfishness of a deeper kind.

When we are finished with the issues of early life we might tend to feel holy. I mean, I don't struggle with lots of the issues my young friends do. There is a deep tranquility in my life style and habits. I have learned healthy life skills and the value of faithfulness etc, but some of what is easy for me is simply the lack of desire to chase the juicy bone, no pun intended.

It is easy to point fingers at the sins of youth. The issues of maturity - wrestling with God - are left largely unspoken (at least in my circle of faith and friendship.) Except if you have coffee with me.

And I just have to add, if an old man is fumbling to get his zipper undone fast enough, he is lost on so many levels. Just saying.

Wild Hare Run

One of the benefits of living on the other side of the world (to us, literally) is opportunities. Our wonderful Kari (Ben's wife) just ran the Wild Hare run in Jakarta. (see google image of race)

The race was run in the dead of night, with everyone wearing a head-band with a coal-miner's kind of light on the front. Very little attraction for me, to be honest. I would find it a challenge to stay up all night and sit on the couch with a tiny reading light on my head-band.