Pondering Nothing Special

In 2010 I was reading Nothing Special by Charlotte Joko Beck. As was my practice I would quote passages from the books I read and then write my reflections. Here is my journal entry June 29, 2010. Beck was writing on the practice of meditation:

“Being in the present is the point of sitting and of practice in general; it helps us to be wiser about life, more compassionate, more oriented to what needs to be done.”

“After all the struggles and avoidance and denying and going the other way, it is deeply satisfying for a second to be there with life as it is. The satisfaction is the very core of ourselves. Who we are is beyond words – just that open power of life, manifesting constantly in all sorts of interesting things, even in our own misery and struggles.”

“…prepare the ground. We don’t need to worry about the little moments or openings that pop up. If we have fertile ground, well-prepared soil, we can throw anything in there and it will grow.”

Today’s reading (above) is not easy to grasp. I think it is saying that we tend to view life as a series of experiences. I might tell someone that “yesterday I had lunch with a friend and grocery shopped and worked on a sewing project. Other than that, nothing.” In doing so I’m implying that the in-between times when I showered and ate and moved from room to room or stopped to shuffle through the mail…these were not really experiences. These were not really my life. I think Becker is saying that it is all my life. Each moment or activity…all changing…me living in this long space called my life on earth. Change is my life, too.

So as I sit here with an unexplained pain in the arch of my foot that yesterday was in the ankle…that is changing, too. It may move to my toes tomorrow or in a couple of hours. It may  just fade away. But I am living through it like a train passing through a tunnel or over a bridge. It is my life and my life is fuller than this one thing, this pain in my foot. My life is also the quiet morning with crow and other birds chattering and the light growing as the earth turns and Bernie snoring in the bedroom. It is good, it is me in life, it is comfort or discomfort, but it is my life.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I thought I would share with you the chapter on Mary in my book The Memorial of Jesus. The story takes place at a gathering of Jesus’ friends and family 30 days after his death to reminisce, to tell stories.

The memorial service is actually a Jewish custom, Sheloshim,  where the community assists family of the deceased to move on to a new stage, after 30 days, of their grieving. The leader or celebrant of the occasion is Yakov, James in the Bible, He is referred to there as the brother of Jesus and this is verified in other writings. He was a priest so it is fitting that he lead the ceremony. After some ritual and prayer, Yakov calls forth family members and close friend to share their memories of Jesus. Mary, Jesus’ mother, comes near the end of the ceremony. I am sharing her words here as I wrote them in the book. I won’t take the time to alert you to the people she refers to, but these are real characters, according to the Bible and other writings, and these have spoken earlier in the memorial service.

As Mary speaks, she uses the Hebrew name for Jesus, Yeshua:

Miriam tells me I have been buried with Yeshua in the tomb. It feels like that – dark and cold and alone. When Yakov wanted to go ahead with the day of memorial, I fought him. “I am not ready,” I pleaded.
“You will never be ready,” he told me, “but life is ready for your return.” My son is right. The light, though dim, is here once more. Thank you, Yakov, for not listening to your mother this one time.
I want to thank John for the hours he spent sitting with me, and attending to my needs this past month. Such a young man, yet he did not run from the rantings of a woman in distress. Suzanna says the evil spirits are finally growing weary of me. God knows I have grown weary of them. In these final days, sleep is finally coming.
I so want to feel joy again. I want to experience the warmth of the sun and the sweet fragrance of lilies of the valley. I want to weave with woolen thread and hold my precious grandchild, Simeon, and run my fingers through his silken hair. I want to feel the rhythm of the drum and the rain on the roof of my house. I want to sing praises once again to the God I believe has been suffering with me. When I am free, perhaps God will stop weeping as well.
In the weeks since Yeshua’s death, people have wanted to know about his birth and about this early years. Where does one begin?
God gave me a son, and what a fistful he was, always questioning. I will tell you a little story, and it is true. When my husband, Joseph, God rest his soul, took the boys to the synagogue as a good Jewish father should, Yeshua was ever restless. One day, during the recitation of the psalms, Joseph looked down and noticed Yeshua with a stick in hand, drawing in the sand on the floor. He said he felt he should stop him and insist he sit up like the older boys, “But he was quiet,” Joseph said, “and down there the rabbi could not see him.”
After prayers were completed, Joseph knelt to see Yeshua had drawn a picture of a house. He asked whose house it was, and Yeshua said, “It is God’s house.”
“Oh,” Joseph said, “you have drawn a picture of the temple in Jerusalem.”
“No,” Yeshua said. “God doesn’t live there anymore.” Joseph was startled and slightly amused. He told me he looked around to see if the rabbi was near. Then he asked Yeshua in a whisper, “Why did God move out of the Temple?” and Yeshua replied, “Because the people can’t see him there.” Do you see how smart he was even then?
I suspect, Thomas, you were much like Yeshua when you were small. If I could share tea with your mother, God rest her soul, I am sure she would tell me a mother’s stories of a curious little boy. In the early mornings I have seen you  go out to greet the sun as it comes up in the East. Yeshua used to do this, and when he left us, I wondered if it was the sun he was seeking. It is right that you go on your journey, Thomas. May the God of light who guided my son guide you as well.
James, I thank you for your insights about the work of the artist. As I listened to your words it occurred to me that when we share in the work of the Creator, we grow attached to the work. Yeshua was my work. All my children are my work, but Yeshua required more of me than the others. The words that came out of my mouth more often with him than any others were, “Listen to me!” It always seemed as if someone else was telling him what to do, and he had to consider my requests in this light. Joseph, God rest his soul, used to say to me, “Our children are not our own. Their father is the One in Heaven, and it is he whose will they must follow.”
I thought when Joseph was ill Yeshua would change his mind about leaving, but he did not. And my husband did not deter him. “He needs to be about his Heavenly Father’s work,” he told me. “He needs to go away to find out what his work is.”
Letting go is the task of the parent, and I fear I am not very good at it. I thought when Yeshua left to do his seeking I had let him go, but clearly I did not, for when he returned and did not remain in Nazareth my heart broke once again. At the cross, God asked me to let him go back to where he came from, back into the dark womb, back into the arms of his Creator. It was more than I could bear. I was clinging too hard, and my clinging was to the dreams I had for Yeshua – not God’s dreams, but my own.
There was a tension between Yeshua and me during the early days of his work. “I am a man who knows what to do,” he said to me. That was his truth. I told him, “You did not allow me the luxury of watching you change. You left as one person and came home another. Give me time to get accustomed to this new man.” That is my truth.
I remember he laughed when I said that. “I am not as crazy a man as I appear, Mother,” he said. “Behind every word and action there is a higher purpose. The Spirit of God has come to dwell in me.”
That is when he asked me to come along with him. “Clopas and Mara are coming. They can use your help watching Simeon. There will be other children as well.” That became my role, the tender of the lambs. And the little lambs, more than anything Yeshua said, awakened my soul to the Kingdom.
Miriam, when Yeshua left for the East, you were just a child, thin as a reed, a little girl who preferred to climb trees and chase rabbits rather than cook and weave. When we stayed at your family’s home in Bethany you used to follow him around like a puppy to get his attention. When we left he complained about how annoying you were. But after his travels he found you transformed into a woman, and he was not so annoyed. When he asked you to come along with us, it was an invitation to walk beside him – not to follow him like a puppy jumping for attention – as the support he knew he would need to do the Father’s work. He called you Mariameme, his tower of strength.
So you want to know the message of the mother? Much wisdom has been shared here today, and I don’t know what more I could add.
Life did not turn out as I thought when I was a young girl, but it is the life set before me. I have had to face many things I would rather not have put into the design of my life. Sadness is a new talis for me. I think I will have to wear it for as long as I live on this earth.
With age comes wisdom, the child of pain and joy. Wisdom sees cause and effect. Wisdom sees that darkness will return and light will return. It perceives the cycle of things. Wisdom sees that knowing the truth about oneself sets one free. This is what I gather from these testimonies of today. One cannot awaken without the truth, and the truth is hard. “The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all. This is the work of the Lord,” we sing, “what a wonderful sight it is!”
I feel Yeshua’s hand upon me.

My last word in the book: AWAKEN!

Sikh Prayer for America

This poem was spoken by Valarie Kaun on November 9, 2016:

In our tears and agony, we hold our children close and confront the truth: The future is dark.
But my faith dares me to ask:
What if the darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?
What if our America is not dead but a country still waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor?
What if all mothers who came before us, who survived genocide and occupation, slavery, and Jim Crow, racism and xenophobia and Islamophobia, political oppression and sexual assault, are standing behind us now, whispering in our ear: You are brave. What if this is our Great Contradiction before we birth the future?
Remember the wisdom of the midwife: “Breathe,” she says. Then “Push.”
Now it is time to breathe. But soon, it will be time to push; soon it will be time to fight – for those we love – Muslim father, Sikh son, trans daughter, indigenous brother, immigrant sister, white worker, the poor and forgotten, and, yes, the ones who cast their vote out of resentment and fear.
Let us make an oath to fight for the soul of America – “the land that never has been yet – And yet must be.” (Lanston Hughes)
The Revolutionary Love and relentless optimism.
And so I pray this Sikh prayer:

“In the name of the Divine, in the name of Love within us and around us, we find everlasting optimism.
With your will, may there be grace for all humanity.”

 

The Caesar Question

I am reading Jim Wallis’ latest book, Christ in Crisis? Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate, and Violence, published this year, 2020. Wallis is a Christian Evangelical Preacher and scholar steeped in social justice according to the teachings of Jesus. I have followed him for years. He touches my need to find relevance in my Christian faith. I am not a person who thinks being a Christian is just about giving ascent to a doctrine. For me it is about following a person, Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and teachings come to me in written form in the New Testament. If people want to haggle over what the cross means or whether Jesus ascended into heaven or whether his miracles were literal events or symbolic, fine. For me, life is too short and the world seems to be going down a snake hole. Wallis has offered me hope if for no other reason than there are people like him living in our midst.

What Wallis sets out to do is pose questions about our government, its policies and practices, based on the stories on the gospels. The one I want to focus on is The Caesar Question. The story of reference is familiar to most Christians because it is often used to show that obedience to government leaders is what God wants us to do. I heard it said that this is the basis of Vice-President Pence’s deep faithfulness to President Trump. I suspect that Pence would use the same story Wallis uses here to explain his loyalty.

The story goes this way:
 The Pharisees went off and made a plan to trap Jesus with some questions. Then they sent to him some of their disciples and some members of Herod’s party. “Teacher”, they said, “we teach the truth about God’s will for man, without worrying about what people think because you pay no attention to man’s status. Tell us, then , what do you think? Is it against our Law to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor or not?”
      Jesus, however, was aware of their evil plans, and so he said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin for paying the tax.”
      They brought him the coin, and he asked them, “Whose face and name are these?”
      “The Emperor’s,” they answered.
     So Jesus said to them, “Well, then pay the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God.”
      When they heard this, they were amazed, and they left him and went away.

Here’s the deal. Jesus’ consciousness and his teaching was all about the Kingdom of God. He believed that this Heavenly Kingdom was real and anyone who just opened their eyes and ears would see it. This is why he came to his people, to announce the Kingdom. Remember his conversation with Pilate before he died? Pilate asked him if her were a king, and Jesus responded that he was but not in the way Pilate would understand. “My Kingdom is not of this world.” In other words, Pilate as an earthly king had nothing to fear. He wasn’t going to take over Rome.

But Jesus went on in his discussion with his questioners. Pay your taxes, obey the law, but pay to God what is God’s. He was setting a priority for his followers, for Christians today, for me. I pay my taxes and I follow the laws until what God wants of me conflicts with what the state is asking of me. This is really clear.

Religious leaders like Wallis are adamant about the choice Christians need to make. When the government makes laws that are unjust, resist them, he preaches. Even when disobedience leads to your arrest, as it has for Wallis. This was clearly the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and M. L. King.

“If you are a Christian living in the Kingdom of God, how are you supposed to live in the Earthly Kingdom?” Read the words of Jesus in the Gospels, note his actions. Choosing the Kingdom of God is not an easy choice…it can lead to trouble. It did for Jesus.

 

 

Charlie

I came across a story I wrote in the fall of 2005 about an adventure trip I took with my 3-year-old grandson. This was simply a journal entry, no intention on publishing, just remembering:

Yesterday, on a whim, I picked up Charlie and took him with me on a picture-taking spree. Becky wants some pics of autumn colors and Morrison County peaked two days ago. As we drove around I wanted to stop every 1/2 mile. The trees were glorious. I stopped twice on private property and both times got caught by owners leaving. Felt a little foolish. Charlie loved it but was disappointed that the parks I’d taken him to did not have swings. At one point we both had to go to the bathroom and I was jealous when he could simply take out his little boy pee-pee and pee into a flower patch. I had to whisk him into the car, speed over to Heidi’s and do my female peeing into her toilet. Then we set out again.

This time I decided to take him to a real park. We stopped at a gas station to get a hot-dog lunch and slushes. The attendant showed a picture in a magazine that really made her laugh of a little boy in a crowd holding himself. I said, “That is funny. My grandson and I had a scene just like that 20 minutes ago.” I showed the picture to Charlie to see if he would notice the little boy’s self-holding. He didn’t. He just looked at it blankly like he wondered why two adults would want to look at a picture of a little boy that wasn’t him. Then I said, “Charlie got to go in the woods. I had to hold it and wait to go when I could get to a real bathroom. It just isn’t fair.” There was a man fixing himself some coffee near where we talked. He smiled, proud I am sure, to be among the privileged.

Saints Among Us

I turned on the TV this morning only to catch the last five minutes of Justice Ginsburg’s memorial service. I decided I would catch it later on U-tube, which I finally did just a short time ago. I have watched many funerals and memorial services over the past few years. Only those of leaders or significant people are televised. George Floyd’s service was televised and I watched it as my way of supporting Black Lives Matter and listening to the inspirational speeches.

I want to focus in this blog on three because I am struck by something similar between them that people who loved and respected them made a point to highlight. The three are Senator John McCain, Representative John Lewis, and Justice Ginsburg. One thing that is striking is the numbers of people who showed up to expressed the loss of these great leaders. There are hundreds of people serving our country in Washington, some not even known to their own constituents. But these three were known for more than their jobs.

I could list the individual accomplishments of McCain, Lewis and Ginsburg but I don’t think that is what made people want to come forth in droves to honor them. I think what brought people out was love. At each of their memorial services, I heard about their ability to respect the humanity of each person they represented and those they worked with. Not only was McCain honored by President Bush of his own party, but by Obama and Clinton. He knew how to respect an individual who had opinions different than his own. The brief encounter he had with a supporter who spoke nasty words about his opponent Barrak Obama is classic. He corrected the woman. “Obama is a fine American who loves his country. He just has a different way of solving problems than I do.”*

At Lewis’ funeral I heard people talk about how he showed love and respect for each person he met. He was known as the Conscience of the Congress. It was said that when he would speak to you, you could feel the love.

Today, the same kind of thoughts were expressed about Ruth Bade Ginsburg. I heard over and over about the friendship she had with conservative Judge Scalia. She was known for her respect for all, no matter their differences in political opinion.

I would call these Heroes. They were of a higher kind of mind and soul than those who seek to tear down others who disagree with them. There are so few among us, especially those who are in leadership positions. I believe that power tends to corrupt. I don’t say that it always does, but it takes saints like these three  to gain  power and to use it only for good.

 

Bypassing the Election

Headline today:  Trump Actively Discussing Radical Measures to Bypass Election Results. (Forbes)

I have voted in at least two election in which the results were contested. These involved recounting the votes assuming the loss was due to human error. This article suggested that the process itself would be contested throwing the selection of electors back to the states. In other words, if the members of the electoral college representing a particular state did not vote favorably for the Republican candidate, their votes would be discarded and the state legislature would have to come up with a new list of electors that would, presumably vote in favor of the Republican candidate.

I think this would basically turn us into a non-democracy. I never ever thought this would happen in my lifetime. I hope the headline reflects some kind of fake news, but the same was reported in five different publications.