This Virus Sucks

I am taking a break from my White Privilege series. I read this morning and have lots to share, but it is busy day ahead…

I received a picture via text this morning of three of my cousins. They are all slightly older than I am and, given our history, are like brother and sisters to me. Two are compromised as far as their health and are suffering dementia. Louie lives in north Chicago. Frannie and Mary live in Kenosha, WI. The picture was sent by their cousin from their dad’s side who has taken the two sisters in to care for them.

It was planned up until January that Bernie and I were going to take a trip to Chicago to see family. Every time we go, I know that it will be a last time for someone. We are all that age. Together we watched Aunt Maureen pass away knowing she was the last of a generation. I, my one surviving brother, and our many cousins are now the generation that serve as the elders. We will all die in time and then our children will step into that role. Seeing Fran and Mary and Louie brought tears to  my eyes. I don’t know if I will ever see them.

This virus sucks. I wonder exactly why we are succumbing to it, allowing it to take away so much of our joy. One moment of light as I looked upon them smiling so lovingly at me: this is not an end. There is no end. We will be together again. That is a positive. It is just a matter of when. Franny told me she is not afraid to die. Nor am I. Jesus showed that death is not an end. That takes the edge off.

I WANT TO BE PART OF SOMETHING BIG

“I want to be part of something big”, These are words I found written in my journal in 1990. I had just started a new job at a church in St. Cloud, MN. I was an idealist. I had a passion for social justice. I loved the kids put in my care. I was doing work that had the potential to break forth into something big. I had the good fortune to meet face to face people who were making a distinct mark on the world. Here is the total of what I wrote that February day 30 years ago:

I want to be part of something big – to be aware of the fact that what I do has meaning. This is why I keep reflecting on the concept of “building the Kingdom of God” – knowing that a mighty work is being done and the work I do in my little corner is part of that work…gives value to all I do.

I never lost the passion. What has changed is that I have found “my little corner” more acceptable. I have learned that this little corner is part of the Kingdom. It is the place where I breath and move and where my senses do their magic. It is true that there are children in the world who need a meal today, but there is also a grandchild that needs to know he is loved and I will be calling him today. I think that when I wrote this I was thinking about my work. But it was never about work.

You may think that the reason you go to work each day is so that you will be given a paycheck to put food on the table and clothes on your back. But I believe that your job is about building the Kingdom of God. So is shopping and going to the doctor’s office and stopping to talk to your neighbor who is getting his mail as you pull out of your driveway. If you hate your job and dread the neighbor who talks way too much, then be aware that the you are a part of the building that my need some work.

There was a young man, John Huebsch, who was an inspiration for my book, The Memorial of Jesus. He co-founded Common Hope, an organization that helps families in Guatemala. John was admired by those of us who went to Guatemala to volunteer our services. Most of us felt that we could never do for the world the great things he was doing. But he liked to say, “Just take care of your little corner of the world.”

I am full of gratitude today for the big thing thing I am part of, the building of the Kingdom. The new year isn’t about starting new things but about continuing the work. It is a work we all share.

HANGING ON TO BELIEFS – TIGHTLY

The last time I saw her, my cousin Franny gave me a number of small pamphlets. She has been decluttering for several years and I haven’t been able to leave her house without something in my arms. She is passing on her problem of too much stuff to me. Don’t be surprised if you come to my house and you get an armful of stuff.

One of the pamphlets is actually a self-published paper-back book entitled Your Owner’s Manual. On the back, the author had posted a warning: “Ideas in this Manual could be hazardous to your belief system and may not be suitable for some religious types.” I think I am safe. I have already done quite a bit of decluttering and getting rid of my old beliefs. Author Burt Hotchkiss isn’t shocking me off my stool. I appreciate, however, reading new words put to ideas I am recently exploring. My most recent exploration has been recent discoveries about consciousness. David Hawkins has written several books on the topic of which I have read five thus far. Burt and David should get together and talk. They would hardly have to use words, so in tune would they be with one another. I am still at the stage, though, where I need words – lots of them.

The chapter I read this morning in Hotchkiss’s booklet is entitled “Mind Dynamics”. He writes that even before an event happens, our reaction to it is already determined. In other words, no matter what you say to me, what I hear and understand has nothing to do with you or your intention. I am experiencing something else and what I am receiving is shaped by what I already believe. You might be intending to pay me a compliment but I may hear it as an insult or vice versa.

My experience has taught me that memory is also distorted by the beliefs I had at the time of an event. To make matters more confusing, memories are distorted when you bring them to mind later because beliefs are always changing.

Hotchkiss suggests that says that these belief system to form at the start. “From ‘Day One’ of your life,” he writes, “your experiences determine how you see life, what you believe about yourself, and your relationship to others and all things.”

With each of us having different belief systems, there is no wonder that we live in such a chaotic worls. With the holidays happening all around us, family gatherings come to mind. It is a common thing in my family to talk about old times bringing up events from childhood. As I listen to my adult kids tell their stories of what happened, you’d think everyone was raised a different family. Yet, no matter the differences, everyone is insists that their memory is the correct one. Using Hotchkiss’s line of thought, the reason for the discrepancy is that everyone who is was present to a particular event was experiencing something different because of their different belief system. How is one to know what actually happened? Ask those who work I the courts how much you can depend on the accuracy of witness accounts in trials.

I agree with everything the Manual says thus far, even if I don’t always understand it. Belief systems can change, and he address that too. It can be hard to change, but the benefits can be great. I used to believe that there was something immoral about people who had an attraction to persons of the same sex. Since I tossed out that belief, my world has opened up to all kinds of wonderful relationships.

St. Paul wrote that we should wear our beliefs like a loose garment. People shouldn’t have to wrestle us to the ground to get us to see something in a different way. When a belief gets in the way of Love, we should be able to let it go with the next gust of wind.

Eldering Charlie

I had the opportunity to try out this eldering thing last night. I went to my almost 17 year old grandson’s wrestling meet last night. There were three matches (Charlie told me not to call them games). The first was between Little Falls, my grandson’s team, and Milaka, the second between Milaca and Sartell and the third between Little Falls and Sartell. This meant that I could sit for an hour and watch Charlie’s team play, oops I mean compete, and then sit for an hour to await his second chance to compete. After the first meet, Charlie told me i could go home if I wanted to but I told him no, I wanted to stay and see how Little Falls would do later. He sat down next to me. I told him that if he wanted to go sit with his friends he could. He said no, he would sit with me.

I was thrilled to have his ear because I knew nothing about wrestling and wrestling can be really boring when you don’t understand what is going on. So, as the match  proceeded, I began to ask him questions such as how points were made and what it means when a wrestler is pinned. Why did the wrestlers begin their match standing and facing each other and other times on the mat with one kneeling down in front of the other? As we watched the wrestlers, I had him explain to me what was happening, what the ref was telling them. He pointed out the good moves, the techniques being used by the better wrestlers.

When his coach called him to regroup with his teammates, I felt so much more in-the-know about the sport and when Little Falls faced Sartell in the next match, I found myself actually knowing when to cheer. It was exciting.

I think Charlie truly enjoyed teaching his grandmother. Eldering is not always teaching a young person. Sometimes it comes in the form of letting them teach you.

The New Year

When I neglect my blog, it locks me out. The little “edit” option disappears from my page and I have to go through the process of seeking out my administration page and proving to WordPress that I am who I say I am and not some kind of blog robber. My blog guru son as finally taught me how to do this for myself. Oh, he taught me many times before now but he finally got the process through my thick skull.

Christmas was the distraction. My blog is not the only thing that suffered neglect. So did my eating program, my exercise regime, my sewing, and any other of my usual life activities. Yesterday, Bernie and I took down the Christmas decorations and today threw out the tree and vacuumed up the pine needles. The house looks a bit naked after all that dingle-dangle stuff draped on the beams, banisters, and window frames, the little ceramic Santas and angels on end tables and book cases, and holiday towels on racks in bathrooms and kitchens. It seems we keep adding stuff each year. I prefer naked, at least as far as my living space is concerned.

About a week ago I bought a new 2019 calendar and spent a couple of hours bringing forward events such as birthdays and all my weekly and monthly meetings. I complain a lot about how busy my life is, but in doing this meditative activity, I realize I rather like the things I do, my daily routine of reading and writing, the groups to which I belong, and the family events including holidays and kids concerts and sporting events. At 74, I still get around pretty darned good.

So I made a promise to myself that in 2019 I will complain less and try to walk through my days with an attitude of gratitude.

Happy New Year.

Presence as Gift

Are there any bloggers out there besides myself who write posts hoping certain people will read it only to find that none of those that you had in mind ever really read your blog? This is a good argument for telling people up front what you want them to hear. But I don’t do that. It is kind of a problem I have. I don’t like telling people what to do. I prefer that they be themselves and accidentally accommodate my wishes.

Here we are walking into the Christmas season once again. If I were to take the time to look at my past blogs I would bet that every year I wrote something about gifting. And every year, I walk into Christmas either doing what I want to do and feeling bad about that, or doing what others expect of me and feeling bad about that. It used to be that the bad feelings came after the exchange of gifts. Now I start early, before I do any shopping.

I have talked to a number of friends about this. Almost without exception, they agree that there is too much emphasis on material things in the world. Where is the true meaning of Christmas, they say. And giving our kids and grand kids what they want seems to counter whatever this meaning is. Behind every act of giving is an act of getting. Selflessness countered by selfishness. What a sad cycle!

My own particular form of cringing at giving material things is rooted in my concern for the environment. I envision every bow and box, every trinket, every Christmas sock and ornament piling up in the city dump. I am a goddamned Scrooge. I mean that in a nice way. Scrooge’s transformation led him to bring himself and his good cheer to the Cratchet family. In other words, his present was his presence.

I read this morning a chapter on giving in Noah Levine’ book, The Heart of the Revolution. He shared the Buddha’s teaching on giving that progresses from giving out of duty (alms) to giving to get. The latter is a bit like Christmas in America is about. We give knowing full well that we also will be recipients of gifts. Deeper, perhaps, is giving because it makes us feel good. Either way, Levine sees that there is a deeper level of giving to which the Buddha calls his followers – the giving of presence. And his idea if presence is so much more than being in the same room with a person. Presence for him is suspending one’s memories, thoughts and plans for a moment in time and take in the other person’s memories, thoughts and plans. It is hearing and seeing in the way Jesus taught when he shared with people what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.

I hear folks frequently talk about how their thoughts have blocked their awareness of what someone else is sharing. The Buddha called this “monkey brain”. It is when our thoughts bombard us so strongly that we can barely pay attention to anything else around us. Meditation is a practice that is designed to calm the monkey. When the monkey is calmed, we can truly listen. Levine suggests that because being truly present to another is such a gift, our meditation practice is a gift to the world.

I wonder what would happen if I gave to my loved ones this kind of presence absent the monkey. What if this were my gift instead of something they could hold in their hands?Would they even recognize presence as a gift? If they knew how difficult it is to become truly present, they might have a better appreciation. And for me as well. What is the gift I most desire? Presence. Leave the monkey at home. Five minutes of presence is better than anything.

Belief or Faith…What Does God Want?

My spirituality book club has chosen a new book that we will be discussing in October, Knocking on Heaven’s door by Katy Butler. Because I order so many books, I usually get them used on Amazon. I don’t like my practice because it doesn’t really support the writers. However, I am very prone to buy books when I have an opportunity to meet authors at book fairs, signings and readings. In the end, I spend more money on books than I do on clothes.

The subtitle of Butler’s book is The Path to a Better Way of Death. The first two chapters refresh my memory of the years I cared for my mother and her later months of life. I was more present to her than my two brothers. Like Butler, I was the woman in the family caught between child care and parent care. It was the way things were for women. I tried desperately to fit into my full-time work time to visit Mom (she knew no one in Minnesota as we’d plucked her out of Illinois after my father’s death), making appointments and taking her to doctors (she could neither drive nor speak), and attending to her day-to-day needs for supplies (or trinkets). I can’t deny that there were days when I felt exhausted and unappreciated. Yet, today I would not give up one of those days.

Butler’s book is not one I would have chosen myself. I am getting weary of reading about aging bodies and death. I would prefer to read about child development or different cultures or the history of our country. But books like hers keep showing up and saying “pay attention.”

This morning, I read something that struck me. I have often struggled to understand the difference between belief and faith. Butler shares a moment she had when she visited her mother and dad and they sat together one morning for a 20 minute meditation. It was her idea to do it believing that it might help all of them deal with the realities at hand: her dad thrown into dependency by a stroke, her mother thrown into the caregiver role and she, the only daughter, trying to manage care details from her home on the country’s opposite coast. First she shared a humorous but annoying moment when her mother kept try to kill a fly with her slipper. Butler struggled with her knee-jerk tendency to snark at her. Rather, she tried her most recently learned self-help technique called Nonviolent Communication. She breathed and recited in her mind a prayer of gratitude for being with them. She says she later looked back at that experience and others like it as a year of grace. She writes:

I did not believe in God then, and I don’t now. But the closest I can come to explaining what happened during that year of grace is to describe a Christian poster I once saw and thought at the time was sentimental, of footprints along the damp sand of a beach.The script along the bottom read, “During your times of trial and suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Interesting words for a person who claims to be an atheist. Here is my thought: We can talk about one’s need to believe in order to enter into some kind of relationship with God. But does God really require belief? I think what God wants from humans has nothing to do with some mindful agreement with someone’s idea of God. Rather, what is required is faith, simple live-in-the moment faith. It is being able to love and hope in all these very human experiences we are having.