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An Advent Poem For Shameless Republicans

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Still no brilliance or profundity for an Advent offering. I spent my “quiet time” today, such as it was, finishing a little paperback mystery and occasionally nodding off, tired from rising at dawn with my Druid family to welcome the winter solstice sunrise.

Headed out to greet the sunrise on winter solstice

After a pancake brunch and a leisurely morning spent opening and admiring gifts, our afternoon was filled with the blasts and booms of the new Star Wars movie, a film doubtless bursting with spiritual depth and hidden meanings entirely lost on me.

So as much as I would like to share my Advent thoughts and feelings, instead I’ll share another Advent poem that I did not write. Yesterday I shared a poem from Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian and civil rights leader.

Today I’ll post a poem by Oscar Romero, a human rights leader and advocate for the poor who was assassinated during the Salvadoran civil war.

I dedicate this to the shameless members of the Republican Congress and the administration who just passed a tax bill that will endanger millions of lower income Americans for the benefit of the filthy rich. Merry Christmas.

The God We Hardly Knew

“No one can celebrate

a genuine Christmas

without being truly poor.

The self-sufficient, the proud,

those who, because they have

everything, look down on others,

those who have no need

even of God- for them there

will be no Christmas.

Only the poor, the hungry,

those who need someone

to come on their behalf,

will have that someone.

That someone is God.

Emmanuel. God-with-us.

Without poverty of spirit

there can be no abundance of God.”

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Controlling Fear

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CONTROLLING FEAR

I was talking with friends the other night about fear and the way it affects our lives. I grew up in what might charitably be called “a funky family,” and I was left with some behaviors and beliefs that aren’t helpful. Over time, I’ve discovered that most of these unwanted character traits are fear-based.

This makes sense, because when you are a little kid and there’s yelling and door-slamming and incomprehensible behavior that is later denied, you do not feel safe. And there’s no sense of degree when you’re little. When you don’t get breakfast, you fear you might starve, and when your father forgets to leave the bar and come home to dinner, you fear he may never come home again and your whole family will be on the streets.

You learn the fine art of “catastrophizing” and spend hours lost in the dreaded land of “what if?” which, if you’re like me, will turn you into a control freak. No matter your age, at some level your inner child believes that if you are not in absolute control of absolutely everyone and everything, terrible things could happen.

You could die.

Managing, Manipulating, and Mothering

Your body is grown-up, but your emotions are stuck in childhood, over-reacting and trying desperately to control things you can’t control and have no business trying to control.

We are all familiar with the manager type, the one who knows just how everything should be and who insists on having everyone meet her demands. If she doesn’t get her way, she usually responds with rage. Anger is a great way to manipulate people. Also useful are shaming, guilt-tripping, and enabling — doing for others what they can do for themselves so that all are dependent on the “mothering” manipulator.

Such people can be unpleasant to be around. They haven’t healed  their childhood wounds and they are bleeding pain and fear all over everybody. Look at the man-child in the White House. A perfect example (if a highly pathological one).

Fear of Self-Care

At any rate, ever since my friends and I had this discussion about the ways that fear can mess us up, God keeps putting more examples in front of me. Today I realized that I’m afraid to take care of myself. Wow.

I was reading Frederick Buechner as follows:

“Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment. The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself . . . “Mind your own business” means butt out of other people’s lives because in the long run they must live their lives for themselves, but it also means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.”

I knew I struggled with self-care because of low self-worth — I mean if you don’t consider yourself of much value, why care for yourself, right? But I hadn’t thought about it in the context of fear and control. I mean seriously, if I am concentrating on myself and my own well-being, who is going to run the rest of the world? Who is going to make sure that something dreadful doesn’t happen?

Recovering from Fear in These Fearful Days

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the election of the man-child has helped me cope with my fears. I know I can’t control his madness, and so I have to “let go and let God,” as the twelve-steppers say. For my own sanity, I am allowing God to pry my clutching fingers from around the globe. I cannot save the world. I cannot control this.

“One day at a time” is another bit of twelve-step wisdom that helps me. Here again, the rise of the man-child has been a lesson for me. Catastrophizing about tomorrow or next week is entirely unnecessary when the president of the United States may daily taunt an unstable nuclear-armed dictator, purposefully escalate religious violence in the Middle East, intentionally increase global warming emissions, and attempt to undermine the free press or the justice system.

The words of Jesus are a lifeline for living in the age of trump: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The upshot of releasing fear and control to a higher power is that I don’t have to spend my days fretting about tomorrow and trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead I have time to focus on my own self-care.

I think I’ll put on some Christmas music and cook up a pot of healthy veggie soup on this snowy afternoon.

Practicing self-care

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”    — Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

Bring Back Mercy!

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BRING BACK MERCY!

Don’t you love the word “mercy?” I guess if you grew up with the image of an angry God and you were yelled at by a preacher about hellfire & brimstone and how you’d damn well better pray for God’s mercy, etc., etc. etc., maybe the word isn’t so comforting to you.

I was fortunate not to grow up in that type of “religious” home, although I still absorbed the angry-white-man-in-the-sky image and am working to banish it from my psyche. When I see the damage such shaming and haranguing has done to many of my friends, I can only pray for God’s mercy!

Today, though, “mercy” seems like a quaint, outmoded word, a word our grandparents might have used. In fact, my father often used the phrase, “Lord, have mercy!” — something I’m sure he picked up from his childhood in Texas. Daddy usually wheezed out these words when he was laughing so hard he was gasping for breath.

Mercy is an old-fashioned concept. With an economic system built on competition and greed, America is not designed for it. Certainly the last remnants of mercy (and grace) departed America during the 2016 election and its aftermath. In the U.S. now, there are only winners and losers, and the one who fancies himself on top glories in dumping on the people he views as “losers.”

Saddest of all, it’s the people who call themselves “true Christians” who seem to be rejoicing in the deportation of refugees and the loss of healthcare for the poor. A guy told me on Twitter last night that I wasn’t a “true Christian” because I didn’t believe in sending all LGBTQ people to hell.

Heart of mercy, right there.

Anyway, Lord have mercy, and keep me from politics this morning!

Bathed in Mercy

Mercy makes me think of water. It’s free and powerful and lovely, and it envelops you and holds you up when you’re immersed in it. It may be gratuitous glistening drops of dew that seemingly appear from nowhere, or a gently flowing stream that accompanies you as you journey in an unfamiliar place, or it may be a rushing river that picks you up off your muddy knees and carries you to a safer place downstream where the banks are sturdier.

In my experience, when I recognize how seriously messed up I am and I decide I want to heal, mercy abounds. I don’t have to do the guilty grovel or say the “sinner’s prayer.” The God I know is a God of grace and mercy who just wants us to help Her make the world a better, more loving place.

The Bible says that all God requires of us is to “love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God.”

Isn’t it fitting that the French word “merci” is related to mercy? I just want to say “thank you” to God and to all my merciful friends and family who put up with my (slight) imperfections.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have mercy on the beasts!

The Focus of Desire

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THE FOCUS OF DESIRE

One of the good things about being a cocaine addict is that it gives you focus. You’re never unclear about what you want or how to get it. You get your paycheck, you go to your dealer’s house, and you get what you desire. If you need more cocaine than you can pay for, you sell some to your friends at an inflated price and then they become better friends because you have what they want. And need. **

Later, you give up cocaine when the fact that it kills young and otherwise healthy people is made painfully clear to you. Then you have to rely on alcohol to give you what you want. It’s cheaper, but the clarity is missing. What you desire isn’t as obvious. You settle for laughing uproariously with other friends who drink too much, and you occasionally get drunk enough to have a heartfelt conversation that feels like intimacy only it’s not. You make mistakes.

Sex is always good for a quick shot of dopamine, but in my case it usually made the emptiness worse because although it satisfied for a time, it could not give me what I was really seeking. I didn’t know precisely what that was, but I was becoming dimly aware that I was a bottomless pit of desire, craving love and acceptance and belonging and meaning.

It wasn’t until I started sniffing around spirituality that I identified the deep desire that lay beneath all of my clambering needs: peace. I distinctly remember writing that in my journal, lo these thirty years ago. “What I really want is peace.”

Finding Peace

Peace is not a familiar feeling when you’ve grown up in an alcoholic household, or any other kind of dysfunctional home — which probably describes most of us! Many “adult children” of imperfect parents don’t really know who they are or what they want because they’re too busy worrying about what other people think of them. We are people-pleasers, afraid of rejection. We often don’t like ourselves; we have this chronic feeling of not being good enough. Out of fear, we work tirelessly to manage everything and everyone so that nothing feels “out of control.”

Peace is hard to come by under these circumstances, which is why so many of us numb out with sex, drugs, carbs, alcohol, social media, TV, etc., etc., etc. Oh, there’s the occasional pearly pink sunset or lazy Sunday afternoon with your lover. But I’m not talking about a peaceful feeling, I’m talking about a deep-down peaceful spirit. Being OK with the world, OK with yourself, and OK with everybody else.

beauty and darkness

I have found this deep and lasting peace through my growing belief and trust in a loving Higher Power, which I call God but I don’t call “He.” My God is Love. My God is not bound by time and assures me that my spirit is not bound by time either. My God is crazy-powerful, but often subtle, so I have to pay attention and be on the lookout for Her fingerprints.

And they are there. I’ve seen them often enough now to know for certain. I am intimately known; I am being cared for and upheld; I am part of a divine plan to bring goodness and reconciliation to the world.

I know this. But I forget. And that’s why I love Lent. It’s a time to intentionally re-enter the house of peace and linger here, not needing to rush off.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” — Isaiah 26:3

** I apologize to nice Christians who think they are signed up to read a nice pastor-lady’s blog. This pastor has a past. And I especially apologize to my grand nieces who sometimes read this blog and who don’t know about Great Auntie Mel’s mixed up past. I am more than happy to tell you all about it if you ask, and especially to tell you why you should not emulate my journey.

Graceful Grace

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Grace is one of my favorite words. Just the sound of it is lovely, let alone the meaning. I wouldn’t say the word itself is graceful — it doesn’t have enough syllables. For something to be graceful, it must have moving parts, it must be coordinated and flowing. Like the flower name, Lisianthus. Now that’s graceful. Also, “grace” starts with a hard “G” and that never sounds graceful to me.

Graceful Lisianthus (common name for Eustoma)

Graceful Lisianthus (common name for Eustoma)

On the other hand, that hard G melts into a gentle, caressing S, so I’ve changed my mind. The word grace itself is graceful. It recognizes and owns hardness, but moves past it easily and into beauty and peace, like a stream flowing over rocks before moving into a calm stretch.

It’s a pretty word. But the meaning — could there be a more gracious word, gracious being defined as “courteous, kind, and pleasant?”

Grace can be used as a verb, meaning to show favor, as in “I have been graced with an amazing house in New Hampshire where I can rest, read, and take the time to blog every day for a month,” or as in the sarcastic, “Oh, thank you Mr. Trump, for gracing us with your 3 a.m. tweets about Miss Universe.” (I know, I know — that wasn’t very gracious of me.)

We throw the word around, at least I do, but it is truly a precious commodity, which I guess means we’ve moved into noun territory.

Grace as a noun means “unmerited favor, love, or help,” and is usually associated with divine favor. The part I like is “unmerited.” Because I’m a mess, I really am, and yet my divine source just flows right over the rocky parts of my personality and showers me with blessed grace.

Religious people sometimes tie the idea of grace to forgiveness, but that doesn’t feel quite right to me. Forgiveness assumes some judgement, and grace bypasses judgement. There is such a rushing flow of love that any obstacles or hurdles we may put in the way of this divine unmerited giving might as well not exist. Grace is clean and pure and doesn’t pause to judge or even notice worthiness or the lack thereof.

It is a gift, an unconditional, extravagant gift, like an armload of Lisianthus delivered on a drab and rainy day.

Day four in my month of daily blogging: from the word prompt, graceful.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Way That You See

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Today is all about seeing, apparently. I didn’t choose this theme for the day, the universe did. Or God. Depending on how you look at it.

photo (78)

First, I read today’s entry from Frederick Buechner’s Listening to Your Life, my hands-down favorite of the dozen-plus “daily readers” that I own. He says you can learn a lot from “religious observances” like weddings, bar mitzvahs, and christenings if you are in a receptive state of mind:

“The word ‘observance’ itself suggests what is perhaps the most important thing about them . . . It is life going on. It is always going on, and it is always precious. It is God that is going on. It is you who are there that is going on. As Henry James advised writers, ‘be one on whom nothing is lost.’ OBSERVE!! There are few things as important, as religious, as that.”

Then I turn on my computer and in my inbox is a daily meditation from Father Richard Rohr called “Nondual Consciousness.” This is his favorite subject, but it’s not as wonky as it sounds. It’s really about how we see ourselves and each other. Which is to say, it’s about love. Here’s an excerpt:

“You give a piece of yourself to the other. You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously). This allows the other to do the same in return. You do not need or demand anything back from them, because you know that you are both participating in a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving  . . . You accept being accepted — for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever! . . .

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can see and accept in myself. And even more, it becomes that whereby I see everything else. This is why it is crucial to allow God, and at least one other person, to see us in our imperfection and nakedness, as we are — rather than as we ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon in their imperfection; otherwise, they will never know the essential and utterly transformative mystery of grace. This is the glue that binds the universe of persons together.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once you allow and accept God’s love for yourself, you will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others.”

Richard Rohr is best in small doses, like rich chocolate cake. If you liked that bit, I highly recommend reading his book, Everything Belongs. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it changed my life. It certainly changed how I see.

The Eyes of the Heart

Then I pick up my bible, which has been ever by my side lately as I work on two sermons simultaneously — remind me never to do that again! My head is a complete muddle and I have two messes on my hands, one of which is to be delivered in a week. Anyway, I come across a wonderful prayer from the apostle Paul to his friends in Ephesus, present-day Turkey. He prays that “the eyes of their hearts” would be enlightened so that they can see the hope and abundance in which they’re living. What a timely prayer for today!

Also a good reminder not spend too much time watching or reading about Donald Trump, lest my heart be filled with negativity and darkness — lest his anger and contempt seep into my heart and fill me with hate and fear. Elsewhere in the Bible, you’ll read: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.”

Watch what you see!

Back in my email, I find the daily word prompt from WordPress is “Eyes.” Of course it is.

eye

I leave you with the words of one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite songsters, Bruce Cockburn.

It’s a verse from Child of the Wind:

Little round planet

In a big universe

Sometimes it looks blessed

Sometimes it looks cursed

Depends on what you look at obviously

But even more it depends on the way that you see

Finding the Beauty in Grief and Loss

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In light of yesterday’s mass shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando, I am republishing this 2014 post on finding the beauty in grief and loss. Perhaps it can lighten your load today.

RAINBOW US FLAG

It’s amazing what happens when you invite people to talk about grief and loss. It’s as if everybody walks around with a lid on their pain until somebody gives them permission to take it off.

I led a spiritual support group discussion last week and suggested the topic, which won’t surprise you, dear reader, since I’ve offered you virtually nothing else since my brother passed away ten weeks ago.

biff among the cards

But I’m not just talking about death. I’m talking about losing a job and not being able to find another one. I know several people who have been in that ego-crushing situation, and it can lead to serious depression and anxiety issues if the loss is not given its due.

I’m talking about having an intimate relationship slowly fizzle out until you find yourself attached to someone you barely recognize. There’s no “crisis,” yet all your dreams of how life could be with this person are lost. You’re left with a gaping hole that you may try to fill with alcohol, drugs, busyness, shopping, porn – anything to numb the loss that you don’t want to confront.

I’m talking about lost friendships that fade out when one of you moves or leaves a job, or a broken friendship that can’t be mended even if you both try because essential pieces have been lost, most often trust.

Grieving over lost health was a common theme in our support group. One minute you’re an employee, a parent, a sibling and you’re cleaning, fixing, planning, and generally living life, and the next you are a patient being cut open or pumped full of poisons that are supposed to cure you.  You lose who you thought you were.

And of course there’s death. One person in our group lost her father to suicide at sixteen. By the time she was twenty-one, she had also lost her brother in a helicopter crash and her sister and mother to cancer. Although we all knew her at least superficially, none of us in the group had ever heard this before. She had a lid on it.

What resonated most with me at that meeting was a woman who said, “I know it’s weird, but I love grief. I live grief.” She said she couldn’t really explain what she meant, but I think I have a clue.

Grief Makes Us One

For one thing, grief is universal. It is something we all share, and it can bring us together. Not always, of course – I’ve heard countless stories of siblings whose relationships imploded on the death of their parents. But in general, we nod, we empathize, we hug each other. We know.

The Bible says that the “God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” That’s why it’s important to take time alone to process your grief, to take the lid off and let God in, because there’s cosmic comfort there if you ask for it. And it’s a universal spirit of comfort that we can all share with each other. Depending on the day, God’s comfort can knock you off your feet or set you back on your feet.

Grief Makes Us Real

Similarly, grief elicits authenticity. After September 11th, I had a strange feeling of not wanting to leave that cocoon of grief, that sacred time of national mourning: it was a rare time of authentic community for our nation.

We often feel we don’t know what to say to a bereaved person, but that’s because we’re called upon to be totally real. Everyday words don’t seem adequate. Most of the sympathy cards atop my piano start off with, “I don’t know what to say” and then go on to say something lovely. And real.

Real Words

Real Words

Grief Leads Us Towards Our Truth

Grief is deep – it leads us into our true humanity. It drowns out the TV, the advertisements, the ringing phone, and the beeping computer. If we are courageous enough to take the lid off our pain and share it, we can reach our true self – and go there with others.

We all “live grief,” as my friend said. It’s very much a part of being human, and it teaches us to search for meaning and a larger perspective on our little human lives. It teaches us to open up to God and to love one another.

What have you learned from grief and loss?

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