This Forty Days, Day 40–And Now We Rest

It is a sweet thing to arrive at day 40. We made it, you and I, through these 40-plus days of sacrifice and solemnity. We made it through the last days of Jesus’s life and now can celebrate his resurrection. I will close out with an Easter post that I’ve used a few times now because I like it. Thank you for being with me on the journey this year. I do not know what next year will bring. We’ll see about that when the time comes. In the meantime, happy resurrection day.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 40–You Can Say That Again (We Rise)

I grew up Catholic. As a child I wondered why we couldn’t say “alleluia” during Lent. As I got older, I came to understand that this prohibition is one of many acknowledgments of the solemnity of the Lenten season, that it is a time of fasting, prayer, reflection, and various forms of sacrifice. One of those forms, firmly in place all around the world is the fasting from saying the word, “alleluia.” I was so happy when Easter came, not because of egg hunts and decorating eggs (which we rarely did) or wearing fancy clothes, complete with hats and dresses and white anklet socks with ruffles and patent leather shoes. (God am I glad those days are over.) The good news is: these 40 days are over and today you can say again what you could not say yesterday: “Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia.”

I used to sing “alleluia” on Easter Sunday with the same gusto as I used to bellow, “Crucify him!” two days earlier at Good Friday services. It was all the same to me back then. So after 40-plus days of giving up chocolate and beer and meat on Fridays and not saying alleluia, today is the day you can knock yourself out and do all those things. Of course, I say this all tongue-in-cheek, which seems somewhat sacrilegious on this holy day of resurrection.

So let me shift gears and title the rest of this blog as I decided to later: We Rise.

We Rise
On that day, the third day, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary (who some say Jesus’s aunt–sister to his mother ) were heading to the tomb. When they got there, the stone had been rolled back from the grave. In one account (Matthew 28), a being of light is sitting on top of the stone, ostensibly waiting to report to whichever of Jesus’s followers showed up, that Jesus was no longer in repose in the tomb. In another( Luke 24), two beings of light join the two Marys who had already entered the tomb to likewise report that Jesus was not there. In both accounts, the angels delivered essentially the same message: He isn’t here.

Different translations exist of these words. I love what the angel in this particular version (Matthew 28) is purported to have said: “He is not here. He is risen, just as he said he would.” I also love the question posed by the angels in Luke’s version: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Very practical question, unless you consider the ramifications of it.

Just two days earlier they had washed, anointed, and wrapped Jesus’s shredded, battered, and wrapped his decidedly dead body in burial cloths. At that time, so engrossed were they in their task and enveloped in their numbed grief, they did not contemplate the notion that he would rise and return to walk among the living. And now here was this being, too bright to even look at, telling them that the body was no longer there. It even invited them to look for themselves, “Come over and see where he had lain.” After their shock at the whole thing had begun to diminish sufficiently enough for them to move, they took off running to tell the disciples.

The translation of this passage is important. The one I prefer says, “He is risen,” while others declare “He has risen.” He has risen which is a stated action of something that he did, while “He is risen,” is a statement of being, of his present condition. I saw other translations that said, “He has been raised,” which took the entire thing out of his hands, like it was something done to him, rather than something that he did himself. It might be obvious here that I much prefer, “He is risen.” It would be like saying someone is awesome (something that they inherently are) or “they have awesomeness,” (which no one would say, but you get the point.) One says that’s what they are at their core, the other says that’s a quality that they possess, but that might be temporary.

And so, as we wind down these 40 days, I want to add a few thoughts to those I shared yesterday, when I wrote about how we wait after the death of a loved one:

“For we who wait after the deaths of our loved ones, there is no predicted resurrection. We know they will not come back in three days as if they went on long trip from which they would return. ”

I realized something when I woke on this “resurrection morning,” no matter what has preceded the previous night, each morning it is we who rise. We rise the next morning after the death of a loved one. We rise after we’ve fallen or been struck down by an unexpected physical or emotional blow. We rise the day after a victory just as we would after a defeat. Whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, we rise. It has been so, and so it will continue to be. We might not quite be at “I am risen,” as a state of being, or we might be and I simply can’t picture what that looks like. But we can and do rise according to our natures and according to the laws of physics.

So while a physical body is seemingly incapable of appearing to rise after it has ceased to function (that is, it is dead), the spiritual body has and is risen. Our loved ones–my mother and father, others who have gone invisible oh so many years ago–perhaps are indeed risen and walking amongst us in some realm which our three-dimensional physical selves cannot detect. We may not see them, but they are risen. We too rise. And so it goes.

Deep bows of gratitude to everyone who has been on part or all of this Lenten journey with me. I do not know what the future holds in terms of what will happen next year–if I have another 40 days in me–but that is not important at this time. What is important is that we live in this moment as best we can, that we are present to the people and world around us right now, and that as needed, and when it is called for, we rise.

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This Forty Days, Day 39–Deadlines

As we approach the end of these 40 days, we have reached one of the most pivotal days of the whole story–Good Friday. Tonight’s poignant Good Friday post was written by my sister, Ruth. 

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Deadline (noun): the time by which something must be finished.

Deadlines are a constant in my life and probably in yours too. I always have several (feels more like several dozen) hanging over my head like the proverbial sword of Damocles. These deadlines have varying degrees of urgency and importance, ranging from simple copy edits to full-blown PowerPoint presentations to senior management.

What is it about deadlines that the more serious the task, the longer I tend to procrastinate? Maybe it’s human nature to avoid confronting particularly difficult challenges until we have absolutely no choice. Perhaps there is something in the desperate realization of impending doom (a.k.a. you make a fool of yourself by not being prepared for the presentation) that calms and focuses the mind toward efficiently completing the task. There must be, because not only does this happen to me, but it frequently results in some of my best work. By no means do I recommend this practice, and it certainly is not the way I approach most of my job responsibilities. Just the really big presentations.

I’ve been this way since college. Once, I remember having a paper due, probably on Monday or Tuesday. For whatever reason, I found myself going to church on Sunday morning, having not even read the whole book, much less written the paper. The stress must have been clear on my face, and when the associate pastor asked me if everything was alright, I completely broke down. If you know me, or any other Chamblees, you know how uncharacteristic this was. We Chamblees are big on the stiff upper lip method of getting things done and the “never let ‘em see you sweat” philosophy. None of this was working for me on that Sunday, so I allowed myself to give up control, share my fear and anxiety, and ask for help. The associate pastor allowed me to pour out my problems and tears, and then she prayed with me. A feeling of calm descended and stayed with me as I returned to my room to face the typewriter. Ideas and arguments came quickly to mind, words flowed easily into sentences, and within a short time I had completed a 10-page paper focused solely on the 2-page afterword of the book. I’ve always credited Jesus with writing that paper for me, and Jesus got an A.

Jesus knew a thing or two about deadlines and anxiety. He had only 3 ½ years to pursue his ministry before facing the ultimate deadline, and there was so, so much to do. With very little time, Jesus gathered his small group of trusted disciples, traveled from town to town teaching the crowds, healing the sick, casting out evil, and preparing his followers to carry on without him. He put off thinking about his deadline. How could he have gotten anything accomplished if he allowed himself to contemplate the anguish and horror of what lay ahead? Imagine how exhausting and heavy that deadline must have felt to him. He was human and he refused to confront the reality of his fate until it was mere hours away. But when he did, Jesus gave us the perfect example of how to face difficult challenges. One that I realize I inadvertently followed on that long-ago Sunday in college.

As the time of his crucifixion drew near, Jesus was overcome with emotion and he asked his closest disciples to come with him to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. Stay here and watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38) After moving slightly away from them, Jesus fell to his knees and cried out to God to spare him, if there was any other solution. He wept and “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:44) When he returned to the disciples and found them sleeping, the human part of Jesus was disappointed. Couldn’t his friends give him even this small measure of support? He told them to pray for their own strength in the hours ahead, and then he returned to his Father. Although the disciples failed Jesus a second time, he forgave their weakness and let them sleep. He no longer needed them, for Jesus had poured out his soul to God who sent “an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22: 43) and he arose from his prayers calm and focused. He alone could face his task, but he had found the strength he needed to do it. It is the same for us. On this Good Friday, let us think of the example set by Jesus as he experienced life’s joys and sorrows—even betrayal, injustice, and execution—always in communion with God, his Father, his higher power. Even in his most difficult hour Jesus was still teaching us.

As Jesus hung from the cross where he was destined to die for our sins, he declared his mission complete and his deadline met by saying “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

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This Forty Days, Day 38–Questions and Answers

In winding down these 40 days, at first I thought I would reprise one of my usual “Maundy Thursday” posts. Today is, after all, the day before the dramatic events of Good Friday. I decided instead to post this less liturgical piece based on Rilke’s quote on loving the questions. And so I offer this post from four years ago.

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Another Forty Days, Day 38–Loving the Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Sometimes it seems there really are more questions than answers. I have spent a lot of time developing patience with the many things that have been unsolved in my heart over the years. At any given time, I’ve had a lot of questions that have required that I develop patience. There are times when I seem no closer to the answers than when I first started asking all of the existential questions: Why am I here? What is my purpose? What would happen if I stick these tweezers in the socket? Yes, I was quite young when I began asking all these questions, including the last one. (I tried it and lived to tell the tale.)

In all seriousness, I have learned to live in a space where I had to begin trying to love the questions, because the answers either were not coming or were so obscured I could not read them. Sometimes they have been tantalizingly close; I can literally feel them, see them on the periphery of my sight, but when I turn my head to “catch” them, they wink away. I have spent a great deal of time living the questions, befriending them, at times lamenting them. I can’t help but feel that perhaps I am approaching the “distant day” that Rilke refers to, and that I am actually starting to live into some answers. And beyond that, I find that there’s no longer a sense of urgency in my questions.

Perhaps, indeed, Rilke’s “distant day” is here. The answers are likely all around me, not out of reach as I used to envision them, but all around. It could be I had to live the questions until they became the real questions. I have no idea. And although I have my days of doubt and frustration and sometimes anger at what I see in the world around me, I also know that I am here to help resolve someone else’s questions.

Have you ever done something, said something to someone, offered a kind word or gesture, went out of your way to reach out to someone you hadn’t spoken to for a while? And when you did that, the person responded with something like, “Thank you, that was exactly what I needed to hear?” On that day, in that moment, you answered a question they didn’t even know they’d asked. There have been times when, in conversation with someone, I can literally feel their spirit drinking in what I am saying. It is the divine spark in them responding to the divine spark in me. In that moment, I helped them live into an answer.

As for my own questions, I have at times been hard pressed to find answers or have not recognized them when they were given to me. I think it’s kind of the law of “physician heal thyself,” in which those of us who coach and guide and lead and offer all kinds of sage advice, are very nearly incapable of doing anything of the sort for ourselves. I think that, too, is a spiritual principle of sorts, based on our interdependence with all other beings. We truly do need each other and provide balance for one another.

Oh yes, I’m learning to love the questions and live into them as best I can as I wait for that “distant day.” Over the course of these 40 days I’ve explored a variety of questions, noting some of those here in this blog, and contemplating others in my heart and mind. And now we approach the last days, of the Lenten season and of this year’s blog.

In liturgical terms, today is “Maundy Thursday,” which I grew up referring to as “Holy Thursday.” It’s the evening during which Christians commemorate the “Last Supper,” the last time Jesus hung out and broke bread with his closest followers. It was the night his betrayer would hand him over to the authorities, commencing Jesus’s last days on the planet. Tomorrow, “Good Friday” is probably the most solemn day in the liturgical year; and even though I no longer adhere to the various practices and tenets of my former faith tradition, I still find myself reflecting on various elements of Jesus’s final, agonizing hours–at the last supper, his anguished prayer time in the garden of Gethsemane, and his arrest, torture and crucifixion.

Regardless of the faith tradition of the various people who’ve taken this journey with me this year, I appreciate your company, the occasional comments you shared, your “likes” and “shares” on Facebook. My purpose in writing each year is about learning to love and living into the questions alongside you, and perhaps occasionally living an answer or two. Thank you for joining me.

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This Forty Days, Day 37–On Poetry

We’re in the home stretch of these 40 days–Holy Week, when all the stuff went down. We have names for days like “Maundy Thursday” or “Good Friday,” but we don’t have names for Monday through Wednesday. Perhaps I could start a trend by naming today “Anticipation Wednesday or something, as we wait for the big days to arrive. In any case, the time for writing has nearly come to an end. I still have a few days and perhaps a few surprises left before the finale on Sunday. In the meantime, I will share this post from six years ago today.

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Forty Days, Day 36–While I in Stillness Wait

I read some poetry today. I was looking for inspiration for tonight’s blog and caught myself flitting from poem to poem like a buzzing bee drunkenly bouncing from blossom to blossom. I read aloud, which I haven’t done in a really long time, poems from people whose names I did not recognize. I started out reading a Mary Oliver poem on a website that contained the works of many poets and groups of poets, and so I flitted. It was a brief distraction from writing tonight’s posting, briefly immersing myself in the flow and rhythm of verse.

As I near the conclusion of the forty days I find myself wearing down from the mental exertions of trying to write something fresh every day. I am thinking a lot as these days wind down about the suffering and death of Jesus. I keep wanting to write about some of that, but keep feeling like I should wait until Good Friday for the really grim, somber stuff. But I find myself drawn to the suffering even though it is only Tuesday. I find myself wondering how one can endure mental, emotional, and physical anguish and agony and yet remain observant of and attentive to the people around them.

Have you ever tried to make someone else feel better even when you are yourself in pain and suffering? I have, and sometimes it can be a little ridiculous. But when you’re accustomed to thinking about other people and their needs and comforts, caretaking  is a habit that’s tough to break, even when the caregiver is in pain. So I think about Jesus, who even though beaten and battered and in excruciating pain, still looks with compassion upon those tormenting him asking God to forgive them for what they did to him. He expresses concern for his mother and who would care for her after he was gone. He extends hope and forgiveness to the two criminals hanging on either side of him, concerned about their souls. And I wonder if I could do that.

Contemplating Jesus’s situation over these 40 days puts a lot of my own “suffering” into perspective and offers me alternative ways of thinking about my life and those of the people around me. It gives me the space to think about and express those thoughts in writing as I have loved to do since I was young. Today’s diversion into poetry allowed me to briefly still the flood of noise that at times roars through my life. Contemplation, stillness, quiet are gifts to be treasured and appreciated. These things can be created and cultivated even in the midst of the hectic-ness. As I read and re-read Mary Oliver and others aloud this evening I smiled in appreciation.

I hope Jesus had poetry in his life or something else that brought him pleasure and surcease from the mental vexations he faced as he approached his final days. I hope he found moments of stillness amidst the swirl and chaos that seemed to follow him wherever he went. What about you, reader? What calms your mind or feeds your soul or quickens your spirit? If you don’t know, I hope you discover it, and if you do know, I hope you create space for it in your life.

This evening I read so many poems, most by Mary Oliver. I thought to leave you with one, but which one to choose? After some deliberation I landed on “Wild Geese,” though I could have as easily selected, “The Summer Day,” or “The Journey” and been just as pleased. Nevertheless, I had to choose and so will stick with where I landed. May it make you smile.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
 
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
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This Forty Days, Day 36–Accepting Things As They Are

I am hard pressed to come up with a reasonable introductory paragraph for this post from 2017. It speaks for itself for the most part and needs no introduction other than to say that there are times when we wish things in our lives weren’t so. But they are the way they are and it is incumbent on us to accept where they are. It doesn’t mean we have to like it or remain resigned that whatever challenges we may face in our current life will always be the way they are. But rather than resisting what is true now, I accept things the way they are in this moment and promise myself that I will make the effort to make changes when and where I can. And so I invite you to take a moment and read today’s reflection.

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Another Forty Days, Day 10–Embracing What’s True Now

The other day, my friend was reminiscing about her days as an athlete. “I would run the bases so fast my arms were windmilling to keep me upright and running in the baseline. I was incredibly fast.” My friend is not prone to exaggeration, so I believed her. She sighed. Now the two of us, each on the other side of fifty, struggle a bit with weight, bad knees, and a variety of other ailments often associated with people our age who have largely sedentary desk jobs. While we’ve been making concerted efforts to get in shape, she knows that her days of flying around the bases during a softball game are likely over. And I, who didn’t have any formal athletic endeavors other than intramural softball in college, a long, long time ago, can scarcely remember what running the bases even felt like. But rather than allow us to devolve into a lamentation about all the things we were unlikely to ever do again, I looked at her and said, “Well, that was then and this is now. I say we embrace what’s true right now.”

It took me a long time to let go of the idea that I was never going to win and olympic medal in track and field, especially since I never had the opportunity to run track in high school and never bothered to try in college. I made a decision several years ago that also meant I was not going to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, although in that case I actually did have to talent to have potentially achieved some success. Yes, I was pretty good at the time. I can look back on a choice I made a few years back that altered the trajectory not only of my life, both that of my children’s lives.

If I were to stand on a metaphorical hilltop and scan in all directions, 360 degrees and look down at various scenes my life, the actions I took, the decisions I made, the roads not taken, the diversions, roadblocks, and detours, the people I met, those I hurt, those who hurt me, and all the dimensions of my existence, I suppose I could choose to mark each of those pivotal passages with regrets and sorrow. Or, I could choose to embrace what’s true for me right now, in this life.

The other day I found myself grumbling to myself a little bit. “I’m old,” I complained to my sister, “I’m about to turn 60. How in the heck did that happen?” The truth is that inside I still feel like I’m 30, but the aforementioned creaky knees and little nagging pains here and there quickly remind me that I’m not. It’s a true exercise (as in requires exertion) for me to let go of all the “woulda-coulda-shoulda’s” that bombard me when I take that 360-degree view of my life and wonder what might have been if I’d followed up on that idea, pursued that dream, said no instead of yes. It takes an effort to look at my reflection (and see my mother looking back at me) and see the imperfections and marks of life displayed there and be pleased with what I see. It requires discipline to express genuine pleasure at the good fortune of another person that I secretly wish had been visited upon me.

And yet I must look at this life with generosity and gratitude that I would extend to any other person struggling with the same affliction. All those twists and turns and roads not taken have led me to this moment wherein I now find myself. Is it perfect? No. My life, like my reflection has imperfections, scars, and blemishes that tell a story of who I am and where I have been. And for all of that, life continues to be full of blessings and unexpected surprises (like recovering from  heartbreak and learning to open myself to love again after previous “failed” relationships.)

These 40 days of reflection offer a good opportunity to embrace what’s true for each of us right now. If you were to climb up to the top of your hilltop (or look out from the observation deck of the empire state building or any other vantage point that offered you a clear 360-degree view of your life, can you look without flinching and open your arms wide to who and where you are right now? It’s a daily opportunity offered to us. It a muscle worth flexing and strengthening in the days ahead. And so it goes.

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This Forty Days, Day 35–It Starts with Hosanna

How did it get to be Palm Sunday already? It’s hard to believe that we are in the last week of our 40-day journey. And I am ahead of the game. By that I mean that I can miss a day and still have 40 posts in by Easter, in fact, I can miss a few days. But that’s not what matters. What is important is that this is the beginning of Holy Week, wherein we commemorate the last days of Jesus’s life. And what days they were, beginning with the wild excitement of Palm Sunday through the dark devastation of “Good” Friday, to the jubilation of the resurrection. Yep, this week has it all. But it begins with Hosanna. I wrote about Palm Sunday over the past six years of Lenten blogs. Today I share a post from 2017.

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Another Forty Days, Day 34–From Hosanna to Hatred

How does one get from “Hosanna!” on Sunday to “Crucify him!” on Friday? What a week it must’ve been–people who adored and cheered and praised you, giving you a hero’s welcome to the city only to turn into a jeering, taunting vigilante mob only a few days later.  Today is Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as the “Prince of Peace.” Imagine crowds of people cheering and waving palms and branches, laying them before Jesus as he rides in on the back of a donkey, humble and regal at the same time.

My mind keeps going back to the question, “Did he know then? When did he know?” Did he know as he was riding in on a wave of love and worshipful approval, that in a few short days, masses of people would once again be assembled, only this time it would be to witness his arrest, his trial, his sentence, and the long and agonizing hours of his torture, punishment, and death. I can remember as a child being horrified and angered at the behavior of the crowd. I also found it confusing, when attending Good Friday service to be one of the ones calling out “Crucify him!” when the part of the service that required audience participation came around. “Give us Barabbas!” we shouted, which I also didn’t understand or like. I felt like we were turning on Jesus.

It’s been many years since I’ve been to church on Palm Sunday, or Good Friday services, or even Resurrection Sunday itself. But the stories, the experiences, the feelings that I learned all those years ago remain with me. And I find myself admiring anew the fact that one human being who lived millennia ago can still have the impact that he does. As with the Buddha and other ancient teachers of note, Jesus’s impact remains as strong today as it has throughout the centuries.

But what captures me most these days, as I contemplate various aspects of these 40 days, is not his divinity, but his humanity. So often throughout these days I find myself reflecting on what Jesus the son of man might be thinking or doing as he walked through his days. How did he feel, for instance, riding through the crowds on that Sunday? This right on the heels of having raised his good friend Lazarus from the dead. It had to have been an awesome couple of days. Still, he knew, even as he arrived in the city and spent time teaching and preaching to the people around him that tensions between himself and the religious establishment were strained at best, antagonistic at worst.

I don’t know if on the day the crowds were cheering him that Jesus knew that some of the same people would, days later, call for him to be crucified. It goes back to the metaphor of watching Jesus’s life unfold as one would watch a movie where we see the protagonist walking blindly into danger. We want to holler at the screen saying, “No Jesus, don’t trust these people. Don’t let yourself get arrested, speak up for yourself. Call on your disciples to protect you. For heaven’s sake, do something!” But we know how the story goes, we know how it’s going to end. But for today, we acknowledge and accept Jesus as King. We wave our palms and sing his praise. And for his part, Jesus must have felt wonderful, even if the shadow of impending doom hovered right behind him.

Holy week will offer the opportunity this week for the final days of reflection and solemnity as we wait for what we know is coming. It provides a space in which we are both cheerleader and taunter, where we offer praise and scorn.  The confusion of a people who are emotionally pushed and pulled between the forces around them result in this kind of split personality that we will watch unfold in the days ahead. From Hosanna to hatred in a few short days is a stunning and breathtaking reversal of moods that likely caught the people themselves off guard. Until, at the end of it all, Jesus stood alone and without support.

From Hosanna to most hated, from King to criminal, so too the fates of Jesus turned sharply. We will experience the passion with him this week, whether we follow the basic tenants of any particular faith or not. As we close out another 40 days, we will go through these last days gleaning what final messages we can before we close the book once again. And so it goes.

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This Forty Days, Day 34–A Time to Rest

I was talking with my sister this afternoon. She expressed concern about my writing about how tired I am. “You’re more than just tired, it sounds like you’re exhausted.” I replied that in fact I am beyond exhausted and have moved toward being burned out. We talked about it for a while and I promised her that I would take steps to ease the exhaustion and burn out. In thinking about tonight’s post, I ran across this piece I wrote six years ago that seems to be a related theme. It’s not as lighthearted as yesterday, but speaks to some important points. Perhaps it really is time to rest.

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Forty Days, Day 31–Study War No More

The other day I was forced to admit to myself that I am tired. Not simply the “I didn’t get enough sleep” kind of tired, though that state has become more commonplace than I care to acknowledge. I mean a deepening, in-the-bones kind of weariness. I am aware that some of this is the war weariness that comes upon someone who has done battle over a protracted period of time. I have not been in the military or trained in any kind of physical combat. I have not experienced the actual horrors of war, the fear, the grim determination, the mental, physical, and emotional strain that our actual combat soldiers and local “peacemakers” have experienced. In that sense, perhaps the metaphor of being a warrior is not appropriate.

Those of us who have not engaged in actual battle need to be significantly less casual in our use of martial metaphors. However, when I think about fitting metaphors for the type of work some of us engage in, while the “battles” are generally not physical ones, sometimes the mental and emotional drains for various types of noncombat work can be psychologically and physically draining. Those of us who work for social change: racial and social justice, marriage equality, reproductive rights, economic equity, immigration reform, environmental justice, peace in contested regions around the world, food security, and so many other areas of endeavor are in our own ways warriors of a kind.

Those who have battled in these areas over many years move through various phases–we are passionate, dedicated, and energetic early on, become battle tested and hardened over time. We take “command,” leading others in the work, and eventually, we get weary. Along the way we may burn out, experience setbacks and be sidelined, get sent back from the front lines, be “wounded” and face all types of hardships and obstacles. Often though, we pull ourselves together and recover enough to throw ourselves back into the fray.

Metaphorically speaking I suppose I am a grizzled and somewhat reluctant old warrior. I have been campaigning for many, many years, sometimes leading, often following. I have had “commanders” who didn’t know what they were doing, who were ill-equipped to do the tasks that were set before them and yet somehow were in leadership. They took orders from the brass even when the results of those orders would be ineffective at best and disastrous at worst and turned around and asked us to execute them. I spent at much time trying to circumvent the foolishness and meet our objectives in my own way when and where I could, protecting the people I was responsible for along the way. In spite of all the dysfunction I managed to do some good work and to stand strong and live to fight another day.

Recently I found myself questioning if I have the stamina for one more campaign. I’ve been given a new set of orders. It’s kind of like in the movies and novels when the leader gives you an assignment that you’re pretty sure you’re not going to come out of in one piece (think of the epic battles in “Lord of the Rings” or the civil war battles depicted in the film, “Glory,” or storming the beaches at Normandy.) You know when you look at the map and the accompanying orders, the objective you’re being asked to take, that you have no idea how you’re going to do it or if it’s even possible, but you know you have to try. People are depending on you, lives are affected by what you are able to accomplish. You have to do what must be done, what Eleanor Roosevelt called “the thing you think you cannot do.”

It is good to be thinking about this during these 40 days of contemplation on the nature of suffering and healing, loss and redemption, death and life. Even when one is weary there are some key things to remember:

  1. You are not doing this alone. Every great struggle for freedom, equality, peace, justice, faith, etc. has been and is engaged by many, many people all over the world. This is not solely your struggle, you do not have to carry it all by yourself. Even when you feel most alone, remember this.
  2. You really are stronger than you think. Every time I think I have hit a wall, I have been able to draw on some inner reservoir of strength that I hadn’t remembered was there. These days I suppose I no longer panic when I get weary. When I reach for the energy it is there, and if I ever reach for it and it isn’t, then I know it’s time for a rest. I trust I will know when I’ve gotten to that point.
  3. There will come a time when you can rest. No one can battle forever. There comes a time when you can “lay down your sword and shield, down by the riverside” and won’t have to “study war no more.” I for one am counting on it. But for now the fight goes on.

I keep proverbs, prayers, and quotes posted around me to keep me moving when I feel tired and overwhelmed. Among them is this wisdom from Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox: “The more we do, the more we see the potential of what is possible. We are not discouraged by the enormity of what lies ahead, we are motivated by it.” While I confess that periodically I am discouraged by the enormity of the hills I have to climb and the work that needs to be done, I know I can’t afford to sit in that discouragement. I have to pull myself together, take quick breather, and get back at it.

That’s what this 40 days is allowing me to do, contemplate and view life through different lenses. I am grateful to be able to share reflections with any who might read and find value in them. Whether you are an actual warrior, physically laying your life on the line around the world, or a more metaphorical warrior battling against all manner of social ills that plague our planet, I have to believe that at the end of the day, we mostly want to study war no more. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May we all experience and know true happiness and peace and savor the fruits thereof. May it be so for us all!

 
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This Forty Days, Day 33–When We Become Our Parents

Yesterday, my sister wrote a moving post about facing her fear of death. As I pondered what I wanted to post for tonight’s entry, I decided to go for something a little lighter. When I spun the wheel and landed on day 32, I had several good posts to choose from, but many of them were a bit heavy and to end the week I wanted to go for something lighter. And so, I offer this post from this day six years ago about our tendency to turn into our parents. I hope you enjoy a little levity as we approach Holy Week.

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Forty Days, Day 32–A Chip Off…

When do we become our parents? Is there some switch that gets flipped or is it more like a dial that gets turned gradually? Sooner or later we will hear ourselves say something and suddenly clap both our hands over our mouths and mutter to ourselves, Oh my god, mom used to say that to me. Whether you have your own children or are blessed to be an auntie/uncle, a godparent, or have friends who have kids, at some point or another you will have this experience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. It’s just like eye color, facial expressions and mannerisms, height, or dimples or receding hairlines. We have ideas, sayings, questions and actions that we get from our parents (often our mothers).

Case in point: the other week when I was out visiting with my sister, I started feeling really unwell. “Hmmm,” she thought for a moment as she pondered potential diagnoses, “when was the last time you when to the bathroom?” Oh my god, mom used to say that to me! “Are you asking me when I had my last bowel movement?” I had to smile. It seemed that whenever we weren’t feeling particularly well that was often my mother’s first question to us. You could have a headache and mom would ask if your bowels were moving properly. “Who says ‘bowel movement anymore?’” my daughter asked me recently. “When you have two medical parents–a father who’s a doctor and a mom who’s a nurse–they’re going to ask about bowel movements.” I replied. I can’t recall ever hearing my mother use the word “poop,” at least not in connection with a human. Before I go any further into scatological conversations, let me shift the topic slightly to the point: at some time we use the same advice, “momisms,” witticisms, and wisdom– homespun or sophisticated–as our elders used with us.

I was fortunate enough to have two parents through my entire childhood and into my adulthood. I wonder if it is nature or nurture that causes us to turn into some facsimile of our parents. I think it’s a bit of both. My guess is that even people who have not known or grown up with their biological parents, have characteristics of those parents nonetheless–some of it has to be in the genes.

So at some point we become our parents and at yet another point our children start to become us. I haven’t noticed tons of direct evidence yet, but have seen enough tendencies in each of my children to know that it’s just a matter of time. I’ll know it when it happens because I’ll see that momentary panicked look come over one of their faces and I’ll nod sagely (I’ve always been really good at nodding sagely) because I know they’re having that “Now I sound like dad/mom” moment.

What has this to do with the 40 days contemplations? Well, I was pondering what Jesus’s mother Mary had to endure watching him grow up, become a young man, and enter into his ministry. There was the time when the precocious 12 year old disappeared on her for a couple of days only to turn up down at the church arguing with the elders. There were other experiences she had watching him grow up that were so painful that it was said to be like a sword in her heart. I have known that feeling, when one of my children said or did something–often unintentionally–that hurt me to the core. I knew solidarity with Mary in that moment as I could feel the sword sliding into my chest.

One day, Mary showed up in the town Jesus was preaching in. When she stopped by the place where he was staying and asked to see him, what he sent back was kind of rude–essentially that he was busy and that everyone was family to him. Imagine being his mother standing out there waiting to see him. I’d have been fuming (and let’s face it, I’d have been very hurt.) In the last days she had to endure his torture and suffering and watch him get brutally nailed to a cross and hoisted into the air as a spectacle to the people around him. Famous works of art show Mary cradling her son’s lifeless body in her arms. The ultimate sword through the heart.

It has been said many times that no parent wants to bury their child. I have known friends and family who have lost children, some as infants, some as youths, some as young adults. I cannot imagine the anguish. And quite honestly, I try not to think about it. They are not ready to lose me and I am most definitely not interested in losing them.

As I think about these 40 days, I think not only about Jesus and what he went through, but the people around him, how they suffered, questioned everything they believed, experienced deep grief and loss. These are universal experiences that we share with others as we walk the paths that are set before us. We become our parents, our children become us and the wheel of life turns.

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This Forty Days, Day 32–Now for Something (Someone) Completely Different

The past few days I struggled with being too tired to write a coherent post. I have been fortunate to have a treasure trove of previous posts to draw from, but I struggled to even write the introductory paragraph to the post. Tonight I am very fortunate indeed to have a guest blogger–my sister Sandy. So without further ado or fanfare, here is her post.

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This is the first time that I’ve written my sister, Marquita’s Lenten blog for her. I initially considered approaching her about doing this substitution a few days ago when I noticed that she was struggling with writing her blog because she was exhausted or “fried” by work. I am intimately familiar with that feeling since I suffered from the same malady before I retired in 2015. So quite honestly, I felt a bit guilty for not offering before now. But here I am.

I have chosen to talk about fear in this blog today. Not fear of flying, not phobias of various sorts, like spiders; not butterflies in your stomach before a work presentation, not concern over speaking another language when you are not that proficient, and not the terror that grips you during a scary movie. I am going to discuss a fear that is very serious and significant to me— fear of dying. I am going to describe how I experience that fear and how Jesus might have reacted to it as He progressed to his own human death on the cross.

I first started fearing I was going to die imminently, i.e., raising it to a conscious level, about three years ago. I had just turned 68 years old. You see my mother died when she was 68. She died of lung cancer very quickly and, for her six children, very unexpectedly. I thought at the time that she was far too young to die, and as my age drew closer and closer to 68 it seemed even younger. It’s fair to say that, for the entire year I was 68, I was afraid I was going to die. I was not comforted by the fact that my father did not die until he was close to 88 and his father (my grandfather) died at 100. And I was not comforted by the fact that I was never a smoker as was my mother. I have now lived three years longer than my mother or 68+1, 68+2, and 68+3 but have not shaken my fear of imminent death. You can imagine that I might have been even more intensely fearful when Covid 19 arrived on the scene about a year ago.

Although I have not obsessed with dying, that is—it does not constantly inhabit my thoughts, the fear remains to the point that I recently decided to do a wellness checkup with a mental health professional. She gave me some exercises to help push thoughts of death from my mind. In reality, I do not want to spend the next 15 years of my life thinking I’m going to die any minute, any hour, any day, any month—you get the idea. The counsellor also suggested that I talk to a minister since I am a Christian who believes in God, prays daily, attends church regularly, and tries to be a good person. And I do believe in the afterlife and hope to get there some day. So I decided to talk to an Episcopal priest in Dallas, named Christopher, whom I met through a friend and interacted with fairly intensely during a 9-week book discussion of Isabel Wilkerson’s book The Caste. We have come to know each other pretty well.

Christopher suggested that I might be a “control freak” and that my own death is certainly not something I can control—either the time, place or circumstances. And what’s more, and to me even more significant, is that I do not know what I will find and feel on the other side of death. All of that is the basis for my fear that, if I do say so myself, seems reasonable to me. So throughout Lent and beyond, I will have to decide for myself how to address and where to put my fear of dying.

When I discussed with my sister, Marquita what I would write about in her blog, I said that Jesus did not fear death. She corrected me in her own inimitable way—“He was scared shitless. Why do you think he sweated great drops of blood?!” Ok! She has a point. But I believe that Jesus’s fear was much more contained and circumscribed than mine. He just had to get through a pre-ordained process He already knew was coming. I don’t know when or how I will ultimately die and, most importantly, I do not know what’s on the other side of death and how it will feel. Jesus knew roughly when He would die, why He would die and perhaps even how He would die before it happened. His death was foretold in the scriptures.

Maybe that is both the good news and the bad news when it comes to what He would fear. But most importantly, He knew He would rise from the dead and that He would ultimately ascend to sit at the right hand of His Father. Jesus knew He would shed His human self and return to the triune in heaven. So, in the final analysis, after His death, He was going home. Despite the thought of His death, Jesus could rejoice in going home. And because of His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus has paved the way for me to rise from the dead and enter heaven too. So although I won’t know what to expect, I too will rejoice in going home and reuniting with my mother, father and others. In the meantime, I’m going to calm down and enjoy the life God has given me and for which I am very grateful. And so it is.

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This Forty Days, Day 31–On Cycles of Grief

In the last 30 minutes of my scheduled work day, a half dozen emails arrived all asking something from me. I started having a pavlovian response every time my incoming mail chime sounded. So I took my earphones out so I couldn’t hear it, and my phone rang with a colleague asking, “So did you get my email?” Seriously? No rest for the weary. One thing Jesus didn’t have to contend with was email and cell phones and people having instantaneous access to him 24/7. Sure, there were people around him all the time, but all he had to do was get in the boat and get rowed out away from them. Goodness gracious!

So I am grateful this evening to have a run across a wonderful piece I wrote a few years back about grief. I share it with you now to give us both something positive to focus on, at least for the next few minutes. Please enjoy it as I walk away from the computer and into some unseasonably warm early spring weather.

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Another Forty Days, Day 28–Seasons and Cycles

The past few days I’ve been in a bit of a funk–sometimes cranky, sometimes sad, often distracted. What is wrong with you? I chide myself, judging and chastising myself for not being able to “pull myself together and get on with it,” whatever “it” is. This past weekend, the sun was shining and it was warm enough outside to work in the yard with only a light jacket against a bit of breeze that blew up from time to time. I worked outside, preparing soil and sowing grass seed in my front yard, stuff I normally love to do. But mostly I sullenly went through the motions. I accomplished my task, but was incongruously out of sorts, given the ideal conditions. What is wrong with you? I asked again, sighing.

And then I realized what it was. No, it couldn’t be, could it? I was suffering from my annual seasonal, cyclical affliction: my “mommy cells” were once again activated as they have been each spring since 1996. You would think I would recognize them after all these years, but they have grown more subtle. My mommy cells first developed in the year after my mother died from cancer in late May of 1995. The first months after her death were acutely painful and challenging, though I put on a brave face for my two young children and worked hard to function in a world where my mother no longer existed in the physical realm. The first year was tough, as I suppose it often is after one has suffered the loss of a loved one.

Over time, the grief eased ever so slowly until it was no longer excruciating, but remained painful. Eventually, over a period of a couple of years, I managed to “move on.” Three years after her death I began a new life odyssey as a single parent, my marriage having ended. Still, in my family we “soldier on,” when things get tough, so I did. But one beautiful spring day a few years after my mother’s death, I found myself dragging emotionally. I felt inexplicably sad, completely out of keeping with the beauty blossoming around me. And then it hit me: “I am grieving. I miss my mommy.” Once I had named it and confirmed that yes, that’s totally what I was feeling, I knew I had entered a new phase in my healing. Better to know the affliction and name it in order to work with it.

Every year in the spring, my mommy cells wake up. It is not the jarring, deeply penetrating sadness I experienced in the first year or so after she died. Each early spring the seasons and cycles of grief repeat. Some years it is the more muted, subtle, background music that plays so gently it is scarcely noticeable, and others it swells to a crescendo, unmistakable and obvious. Now as I approach the 22nd anniversary of her passage from the planet, I find that it took me a bit longer to recognize the change in my emotional seasons. The mommy cells lie dormant throughout much of the year, but they begin stirring in December, the month her illness was diagnosed and gain a foothold as the short, cold winter days begin to yield to the warming, breezy, rainy days of early spring.

As much as I would like to pooh-pooh the idea that emotions can be etched into one’s DNA and triggered, awakened at a particular time, it has been my experience these 20 years. I don’t actively think about it, plan or prepare for it, guard against it or any such thing that would require precognition. It hits without my my awareness of what is happening, often occurring to me weeks after I begin to notice my moods. “Well, duh,” one might say, but I would not be so unkind. For me it’s really a more gentle, “Ahhhhh,” and a self-soothing, “It’s okay. Now I understand what’s going on, and it’s okay.”

I just realized as I’ve been writing this, that one of the last times I remember being at Mass with my mother was Easter of 1995–April 16, 1995. This year, Easter is once again on April 16. I can remember what my mother wore (I have no idea what I wore…), I remember where we sat in church, and I remember some of the music that day. As I continue these reflections of the remaining days leading up to this Easter, I will do so with a new awareness of what they mean to me (and my siblings) personally, as well as what it means spiritually.

Grief, like so many phenomena, comes in seasons and cycles. Sometimes we catch what’s happening, and sometimes we don’t. And that’s alright. When you find yourself inexplicably sad, sometimes it may be grief cells that have been activated. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a marriage, or any other type of profound loss, be gentle and kind to yourself as best you can. Know that it may come around again, and that it might even sneak up on you, but when you recognize it for what it is, welcome it and accept the opportunity for a little more healing.

For me, the journey of these 40 days offers me the opportunity for introspection, reflection, growth, healing, and deepening of my thoughts about and understanding of many things. It is a gift. And even in the midst of awakening grief cells, I am grateful for the gifts they offer. And so it goes.

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