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.

Seeking Oneness in Families

This past weekend my grandson Noah married the love of his life, Christine. What a precious day! Two families coming together, enjoying the process of discovery, each appreciating the other. It wasn’t a big affair, but there was so much good happening.

The wedding party was large, but how could it not be with bride and groom coming from large families. Early in the ceremony, we were delighted when Noah’s 2-year-old nephew, Skipper, brought the box containing the rings forward. He was lured by his Uncle Micah with a promise of candy to deliver the box. After he did so, he sat on the sanctuary step with every intention of staying. His dad had to come forward to scoop him up.

There were some rituals during the ceremony including a sand ceremony that I’d never heard of before. It was explained to me that the families of origin (the moms) pour sand into a jar representing foundations and the couple then pour colored sand into the mix representing the unique way the new couple would build on that foundation. After the vows, the parents of both sides came up and formed a circle of prayer with the couple. We were not in the circle to hear what they each prayed for the couple but those of us in the congregation were able to support them in prayer.

During the reception, Noah called all married couples to the dance floor and, as we danced, he began eliminating couples one at time. “If you have been married one year or less, sit down…” Then, “Five years or less…” “Ten years…”etc. Bernie and I could see that the moment would come when we would be standing on the dance floor alone. As we danced, we argued about how long we’ve been married. We weren’t quite sure. We finally decided we would say 53 years even if it wasn’t right.

I want to share with my readers something about this special event that touched me more than anything. Christine was an adopted child. Some time after she was being raised by her new family, contact was made with the birth mother and a relationship began between her and Christine’s adoptive family. She was there and when Christine’s father was asked by the minister “Who is giving Christine in marriage?”, he responced, “Her mother, her birth mother, and I.” Later after the initial couple’s dance the bride and her father danced together alone, At one point Kevin stopped and signaled to someone in the back to come forward. For a while, no one came, but eventually with more coaxing, a man came onto the dance floor to take Kevin’s place. I was told that this was Christine’s birth father who had also been invited. There were many tears shed at that moment, including my own.

My mother’s and dad’s families both experienced brokenness. In our history there is a case of a child being born out of “wedlock” and given to an aunt to be raised. The child grew up not knowing the truth and who her birth mother was. We’ve had our share of addictions and all the pain that goes with it. There were rifts over money borrowed and never payed back. One relative was ostracized when he married outside the family religion. There are so many different reasons brokenness occurs in families. Bad decisions are made and innocent people suffer. Sometmes, parents are young as they start out and in their immaturity do some pretty poor parenting that causes harm to their children. In some families arguing and fighting is the norm. In today’s world, such troubled families are often referred to as “dysfunctional” assuming that their problems are out of the ordinary.

Should we then assume that a “functional” family is one where there are no such struggles or relationship ruptures? I don’t think so. I think all families have problems but not all families have the capacity to deal with the problems in a healthy way. They may lack communication skills and self-awareness, for example. I have seen families where these skills were developed later in the families life when they could deal with old hurts, forgive one another and move on. In the case of Christine’s family moving on means more than forgetting or forgiving. It means drawing in, creating a circle of love where you might not expect one to ever exist. In my understanding of God’s will for us, this is exactly it…moving toward Oneness and Love.

Eating at the Catholic Table

Richard Rohr’s topic for meditations this week is “Eucharist”. Sore spot with me. My decision to dissociate myself for Catholic worship came as a result of the Church’s teaching about exclusivity, that is, only Catholics (in good standing) can receive. Many priests offer a blessing if someone comes forward and holds their hands over their heart. Sounds to me like a way for people too embarrassed to sit in their pews so they are less noticed and perhaps less likely to be judged. When I go to a Catholic funeral or wedding, I wait and listen for the priest to either tell people that they cannot receive or refrain from saying anything. I will go up for communion if nothing is said.

Going to communion is one way to show my oneness with the those I am there for, either in death or marriage or any other celebration. If the bond is really close, such as a relative, I may go even if the priest is exclusive. The relationship takes precedence over my stubborn need to make a statement (as though anyone is watching).

Refraining is a way to show oneness with those others who are being excluded. If I go forward for the blessing I feel it still violates the oneness I feel with them. I was at funeral recently and sat next to a woman who is not Catholic but I know her to be very pious. She appreciated the invitation to blessing and I could see by the look on her face that she was indeed blessed. I sat there angry as hell because I think she should have been able to take the bread. Holy of me, huh!

Before I end I have to mention that technically I am not worthy to receive the Eucharist, Catholic or not. I am not practicing faith. I am what some in the Church would call “fallen away.” I don’t feel fallen away. I feel that I have veered to another path where I have found community and other practices that feed my soul. Going to a Catholic mass is like coming home to visit. I am still a member of the family whether other members agree or not. I enjoy the rituals and words as they stir those sacred moments I remember from my childhood. Because I continue to see myself as part of the Catholic family, I maintain the right to have an opinion and the right to eat at the table if I so choose.

Back Home Again

I have been away for some time…literally. My husband and I traveled down to Colorado to visit my son and his family. There Chris worked with my on my website. From there we went to the little Arizona town where my daughter has lived for 17 years to pack up her and her daughter to move to Minnesota. I never unpacked my computer for the ten days we were there. We basically packed, cleaned, and ran errands. My granddaughter, Christina, graduated from high school while we were there and Becky closed out her work to pass on to a new school counselor. Christina’s dad and I ran a garage sale to clear out what we could. There was very little to bring to the resale store. In the end we just got into the moving truck all of their things. Bernie was the driver for the truck pulling Christina’s car for the whole three days to Minnesota. Becky drove our car. I did very little driving which was fine with me. I make a better copilot.

We arrived home on Sunday. Becky’s two sisters and their families were here to help with the unpacking. It was great. They celebrated her coming home with special t-shirts, a chicken dinner, and a cake. Since then, life has been about unpacking, running errands, and trying to catch up with sleep. I am just now opening my computer.

We have only been home for 3 days and tomorrow we head north to Bemidji to work with daughter #2 and her husband who are on another packing spree so they can move out of their house in preparation for demolishing that and building another. Sometimes I wonder whose life this is that we are living. I am so grateful that my book is off my plate for a while and in the lap of the publisher. All I need to know is when it will be printed and packed in boxes for us to pick up. Then starts another whole adventure.

The greatest pleasure in coming north on 35 toward home was watching the green return to the landscape. I understand people wanting to escape Minnesota winters. I wish we could do so, as well. But if it meant missing the lushness that I see around our home and the beautiful 10,000 lakes that we enjoy this half of the year, I know I would choose to stay here.

Hello, Friends! It is good to be back.



Josiah’s Birthday

Here you have my grandson, Josiah, celebrating his 14th birthday. In my son’s house the birthday child gets to select his or her favorite food. Not only did Josiah get the requested t-bone steak, but he got a gourmet version purchased from friends who have a meat business known for its  premium products. Value $30. The rest of us had hot dogs.

The intent of this very special sharing is for my son to teach me how to put pictures on my blog. This one was taken with my phone. It is a daunting thing for me. Dealing with technology comes close to what I think hell is like. But I am giving it my best.

I am pleased with the picture and my first time success. I am especially pleased with Josiah. Isn’t he adorable?

PS. The rest of us didn’t really have hot dogs. We had delicious beef brisket prepared harmoniously by my daughter-in-law, Wendy, and my husband.

Why I Hate Dieting

Bernie and I are on a diet. Both of us need to lose weight. I tried to find some kind of diet that would be acceptable to both of us but my search led only to frustration. I went to Barnes’ and Noble to find the perfect book but all I found were diet books with pages and pages of information about how the body works, what it needs and lots about motivating yourself. The fact is, I know all this stuff. I have had a few times when dieting has worked for me, but at 73, I find I don’t really care how I look like I did when I was young. I want to be healthy because it gives me hope that my latter years will be less uncomfortable. This is why I exercise, too. My problem is that diets and exercise bore me to death. My favorite activities are reading, writing and sitting around talking with people.

I went on line and searched diet menu plans for dieting. This brought up some helpful tips on choosing foods for meals and snacks. This seemed much simpler than rehashing all the studies I had done in the past. So I told Bernie, “I will plan our meals and hope for the best.” I also decided to count calories after we eat rather than before. I figure that over time, knowing what to eat and portions will come naturally.

We started yesterday. What Bernie is not used to is the measuring (just one teaspoon of butter on your toast, only 2 tablespoons of dressing on your salad). I am not planning to get into non-fat foods. I would rather just cut back on the amount of something that tastes good than eat a greater volume of something that tastes like rubber.

We got through our first day. This morning I made berry, banana, yogurt smoothies for breakfast. I told Bernie he can have a piece of toast with his. So far so good. Yet, I have to tell you that I am spending  way to  much time thinking about this and making notes. There are a hundred things I would rather be doing. What I really want is for Oprah’s Mr. Green to move in with and prepare all our meals and leave me free to do whatever I want with my time.

This is Going to be an Adventure

I don’t know if I have ever looked forward with as much joy to all that is coming. In June our daughter, Becky, along with her daughter, returns home after living in Arizona for the last 20 years. Another daughter, Kate, already here in Minnesota plans to build a new home and has informed us of the help they will need moving things around. My book will be published, probably in June. Our grandson is getting married in Colorado in late July and my husband and I are planning a Lewis and Clark river trip in September.

My mother used to say when things got crazy hectic, “This is going to be an adventure!” It always took away fears and apprehensions such as I would get stepping on to a roller coaster.

I am already exercising and going to the chiropractor in anticipation of my participation in all of the above. I am still here on the earth. I will walk as long as possible, sit as little as possible.

I think I am being inspired by Stephen Hawkins who kept going no matter what his body said. I had a piece of pie in his honor yesterday.