Category Archives: Faith

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

Grandmother God rose last night in the face of the full moon.

 I stood out in the still summer heat watching her.

How pale you look I said.

How hot you look she said.

We shared a smile.

Knowing God is seeing God where you find her.

–Stephen Charleston, Cloud Walking

 

Have you ever noticed that the everyday morphs into the rare and remarkable on closer inspection?

Taking photos is something I’m obsessed with, not great at it, but drawn to like a menopausal woman to chocolate. I want to look at the same places, same things, same people, and see something different. Something that will wake me up, stir my spirit into knowing I am alive, not just walking through a bland dream.

From my backyard, what’s left after the Clematis blossom fades.

It’s been suggested that I take a photography course, or at least buy a good digital camera with all the glickins. That would take the fun out of it for me, the spontaneity in seeing what I can produce with my little iPhone five. The blog most likely deserves better, but I am resisting as long as I can.

The bottom side of a mushroom, from my yard.

Revealing the spectacular in the ordinary does not disappoint. It is a meditative practice for me. What we seek cannot be found in our iPhones, television, Facebook, dinner out, or any other distraction “out there.” It is always here, inside us. If you slow down and resist being sucked into today’s negative drama you find an entire other world to concern yourself with, vastly more interesting and soul nourishing.

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Could We Be Wrong?

Could We Be Wrong?

 

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”          ― Carl Sagan

An amateur Spanish archaeologist, Marcelino de Sautuola, and his eight-year-old daughter Maria were exploring a cave in Altimira Spain in 1879 when Maria looked up and found striking paintings of bison on the ceiling.

Sautoula had seen similar displays of Paleolithic painting in Paris at an exposition and assumed their Altimira discovery might also date from the Stone Age. He and an archaeologist from the University of Madrid published these findings to quite a stir in the scientific community.

They presented the paper at an International Scientific Congress and were ridiculed. He was accused of forgery because he could not account for why there were no soot marks on the walls and ceilings of the cave. His accusers said Sautuola had the images painted by a modern artist.

The scientific community took issue with de Sautuola’s findings; so did the church. The theory of evolution was new in those days and his theory of a very talented Paleolithic painter who lived 15,000 years ago did not sit well with them, so de Sautuola was discredited even further.

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What We Have in Common

What We Have in Common

 

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein

The campus chimes begin to toll as I step out onto the labyrinth at University of Central Oklahoma, one, two, three, four, five o’clock. A lovely, simple melody follows, and I continue on the red winding path. The music ends, and the chimes from a nearby church echo the same tune back, then play a hymn. It is Good Friday and the campus is deserted; I love the quiet and the peaceful setting. Perfect for my walking meditation today. I am in the first hour of a four-hour silent retreat and prayer vigil.

As I walk I think back over the past six months; I have been part of a group engaged in the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius. This daily retreat focuses on the entire life of Jesus and places the participant emotionally into scenes of his life with prayer, meditation, contemplation, and journaling. Total immersion. I first participated in the exercises sixteen years ago, and as my first experience, this one has been intimate, imbued with spiritual integrity, tolerance, and revelation.

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Uncommon Mercy

Uncommon Mercy

 

I looked up from my hymnal to see bright, brown, innocent eyes peering back at me from two pews up. Fresh-faced and beaming, most likely of Chinese heritage, she looked about fourteen. My heart stopped, and I gasped out-loud.

I didn’t recall ever seeing her at St Augustine’s and have not seen her since. Looking back at the day, I am not sure I physically saw her.

The night before I watched a movie called “The Flowers of War.” I was drawn to it because my favorite actor, Christian Bale, was in it. I got a great deal more than I bargained for; the story had a profound effect on me. Six months later I feel compelled to tell the story.

Nanjing City

The movie was about the Chinese city of Nanking, the setting of one of the most horrific war crimes in history. I had never heard this story; it awakened me and revealed a depth of sacrifice I am not sure I possess.

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Suppertime, and the Livin is Easy

Suppertime, and the Livin is Easy

Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!
Peas pudding and saveloys
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it boys, in-di-gestion!

Food, glorious food!
Eat right through the menu.
Just loosen your belt
Two inches and then you
Work up a new appetite.
In this interlude —
The food,
Once again, food
Fabulous food,
Glorious food.

Oliver! -Lionel Bart

I love to eat. Constantly. If I am not eating I am thinking of food. You too? I figured. Eating makes us happy in a way nothing else can. Dining not only fuels our bodies and senses but is a superglue binding our memories and emotions. Those endorphins are furrowed right into our little taste buds.

When that combination of hot peach cobbler and sweet ice cream hits my tongue I am right back in 1966, huddled around Grandma Sander’s kitchen table with my sister Jan and Roger and Howard Sanders. We are playing a game; I don’t remember it, just the flavor of her cobbler and ice cream, like I have a bowl of it right here. I can feel the affection of those old friends and hear the music we sang. “Make the world go away, get it off my shoulder.” Cochran, Hank 1960

Unknown Coffee

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A Valentine to My Younger Self

A Valentine to My Younger Self

“God asks us to jump from our secure perches, to stop calculating the risks. Jesus bids us, “Take up your cross, follow me. . . . Don’t insist on knowing exactly what comes next but trust that you are in the hand of God, who will guide your life.”  Henri Nouwen —Turn My Mourning into Dancing

 My niece Jessica turned thirty recently; seems like she should still be my little four year old shadow. Her birthday takes me back to the thirty-year-old I was. Sometimes I think about that naive girl and wish I could tell her what only time and maturity can.

I found a worn photo from my thirtieth birthday; I worked for KATT radio in Oklahoma City then. I was holding my birthday cake with a sleepy KATT mascot iced onto it. The clock above her head read 8:15; I was supposed to be at work by 8:00. Still don’t like that morning thing.

30 B-Day Cake (3)

My expression in this photo clearly says “bite me”. I was newly divorced, on my own for the first time, and had just begun a new commission based sales job. I was poor, persnickety, and pale. Also a smidge insecure and overwhelmed.

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Have You Seen a Snow Goddess?

Have You Seen a Snow Goddess?

Wakonda high school, hats off to thee.

And our colors, true to thee we’ll ever be.

Firm and strong united are we!

Hoorah rah rah, Hoorah for Wakonda high school!

 

When I was a kid we lived in the Tundra for eight years. The incessant cold all but atrophied my grey matter; the above is what is left in the memory bank of our school song, a cloudy memory from the second grade. This Christmas season brings back memories of that time, and my parents, whom I miss more than I can say. This was a divine time in our lives, a time of innocence and possibility.

Our first years as a family were fairly idyllic in small town South Dakota, Wakonda, population 405. Wakonda is an Osage Indian word meaning “Great Creator”, an abstract, omnipresent spirit. Curious that my awareness and seeking of God began when we lived in Wakonda.

SD House Sized (2)

My folk’s first home was actually their dream home; they paid less for it than you would a used car now.  It was on a corner two acre lot with cherry trees, apple trees and crab-apple trees. This place was an absolute marvel for a kid!

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Mary and the Teeth Gnashers

Mary and the Teeth Gnashers

 

It seems to me that if there is a bad taste in your mouth, you should spit it out. You don’t constantly swallow it back.”  Amazing Grace, Michael Apted, 2006

 

Hours on end we sat on those hard pews looking up at the minister.  We listened, my girlfriends and I.  Week after week we learned and prayed and wondered why.  And, why not?

The Good Book was read to us and by us, stories that left us out. We felt less than. God was male, disciples were men, preachers were all men, deacons were men, and choir directors were all men. We felt less than.

So few examples to look to, to emulate. Women were revered because they were obedient and docile. From the bible, it seems the only way for a woman to redeem herself as worthy was to give birth multiple times and preferably to male children.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

I am grateful for the bible stories that do tell other stories of women.  We see the perseverance and divine insight of Anna, the faith of Mary Magdalene which lead to healing of her chronic illness, Pilot’s wife warning her husband of her powerful dream about Jesus, “this innocent man”(which he ignored).  The story of Priscilla was encouraging, as she was chosen by Paul to shepherd a church he left behind, and Miriam who questioned authority and helped Moses lead the Hebrew people to the Promised Land.

There were too few of these stories and unless you excavated them, you never even heard them.

It’s sad when you remember where value was placed when many of us were girls. It was accepted as just the way things were. Girls grew up understanding their worth, and later as adults hid the hurt because mentioning it brought on not just opposition, but wrath. Not only from men, but sadly from other women.

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Clouds, Go Figure

Clouds, Go Figure

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi

 

The first hours of daybreak are not my finest. On the very rare occasion I am forced into wakefulness as the big shining orb begins to rise, my surly attitude can be transmuted by a spectacular sunrise.

Do you know what it takes to see a beautiful sunrise? Clouds. It takes more than just a couple higher clouds. Fall and winter months produce the best sunrises because the angle of the sun is lower. More violet and blue light scatters, causing the sky to be very blue. The sun’s rays pass through the cloud layers for a longer time and this enables us to see those glorious melons, blues, reds and yellows.

Clouds, go figure. Without clouds, there is nothing for the sun’s rays to reflect off of, to show us the beauty in our world. Struggling and suffering are clouds in our lives that can propel us toward strength and growth.

If we spend our entire lives doing everything in our power to avoid suffering we miss completely the power we e-a-r-n from the process. People go to such great lengths to avoid pain and suffering that they end up with lives lived on the surface. You know them, people who avoid having difficult conversations and allow their relationships to remain superficial, are so afraid of a job interview that they stay in the same job their entire career, never learn to swim or ride a bike, or never speak up for themselves at work. You never get what you really want out of life like this do you?

I When I was a kid in South Dakota I was scared silly to graduate from the “Tadpole” swimming class to the “Minnow” class. When it came time for the next class I spent a second term in “Tadpoles” because I was so afraid of what might be expected of me as a “Minnow”. Finally I put my big girl panties on, tried the next class and turned into a Mermaid, jumping off the diving board, turning flips off the side of the pool, diving into the water, and swimming laps with confidence.

Had I not moved through the suffering I would have missed the joy of the process, not to mention the mermaid stage of my life and that little green swimsuit that earned me the moniker of “pear butt”! The only way to get to the other side was to suffer.

Look around you. Those who do the work, earn the gifts. They have learned the dire truth of letting go of the safety net or moving outside their comfort zone to gain something much better.

Cheryl is no morning lark either. In spite of this, for as long as I can remember, the first thing she does in the morning is stretch and do some light weight bearing exercise. She makes no big production of it and few know she does this. (Well, up to now, sorry Churl.) Her reward for this dreadful morning sacrifice is some fairly chiseled arms, and more upper body strength than most women her age and size.

Lorna forgoes spending on unnecessary household items. Her gift is enough discretionary money to travel all over the world, and wonderful memories to take with her. She just chooses memories instead of things.

There is pain involved in good decisions more often than not. These decisions make our lives better, markedly better.

The safe way we have always done things is not always best. I might have remained in just one career and perhaps been closer to retirement than I am now. In no way do I regret the changes I have made. The gifts from my tenure at ten or so post college jobs over forty years are tremendous resilience, courage, friendships, communication skill, travel, an expanded world view, expertise in various fields, and the confidence that I can do most anything I intend to do.

Fear generally is the thing that halts the growth process, fear of suffering. We fear failure, rejection, embarrassment, financial trouble, loss, physical pain and the unknown. And yes, we have all experienced these. They are the real deal. Being rejected is humiliating, failing is frustrating, having your heart broken is devastating, changing jobs can scare the blonde off your hair, but suffering is the place we begin to earn the gifts.

Not particularly to my liking, suffering is also one of the ways we gain self-knowledge. We all know folks who have allowed themselves be taught by suffering, instead of immobilized by it. In her memoir “The Hiding Place”, Corrie Ten Boom recounts being held in Ravensbruck, a notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp as a Dutch Jew who aided other Jews during World War II. That desperate time taught Corrie who she was and who she was not. Most of all, it taught her gratefulness. What she had suffered during the war gave her the knowledge and empathy to run a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors after the war.  Like Corrie, we also learn reliance on God from suffering. Corrie was able to share with thousands how God’s love brought her through the ordeal.

A different type of suffering is that which we must allow. When we do not allow these sacrifices, not much life happens either. Want energy? Exercise. Want financial stability? Do your homework, seek the advice of a financial advisor, and follow it. Want to meet someone wonderful? Do the interior work to become someone wonderful. Want to love your work? Quit that job that sucks you dry of creativity and do something you have passion for!

Our spiritual lives are no different. 

We want to feel close to God, to have discernment in our choices. But will we do the spiritual work to know God? I love my church, but just going to church on Sunday morning and expecting to grow in spiritual wisdom is like standing in the kitchen each day and expecting to become a great cook. We all know how that turns out. . .

You have heard the phrase “fruits of the spirit”. I believe those fruits of the spirit are earned gifts developed over time with consistent effort.

When I was a kid I turned to absolute stone when my Dad used the word “discipline”, the dreaded “D” word. Oh, he wore that tired word out! Talk about suffering, I wanted to just lob off my ears as he yammered on. As I have matured however, I have come to understand that applied discipline yields growth. This is also true in our spiritual lives.

Spiritual practice takes so many forms, prayer, meditation, reading and studying spiritual material, writing, sharing our faith lives with others, attending church or spiritual groups, going on retreats or quiet time in nature listening to God.  We utter a litany of prayers but we do little listening. Whatever path we choose, growth takes place when it is done with intention, consistency and discipline.

Here is the dismal truth folks; we must suffer to get to the really good stuff in life. Yes it is generally uncomfortable, painful, and sometimes downright frightening but the sweetness on the other side is like no other. Pain and sacrifice can mean a step closer to our dreams. People who do not make the leap suffer too because of their indecision; they just never reap the reward.

 

“Thirty-nine years of my life had passed before I understood that clouds were not my enemy; that they were beautiful, and that I needed them. I suppose this, for me, marked the beginning of of wisdom. Life is short.” ― Iimani David

 

 

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That Long Trip Home

That Long Trip Home

“The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before, it always leads me here
Leads me to your door”

 John Lennon, Paul McCartney

 

The God of full moon watched over me all evening as I drove southeast through the rolling hills of Oklahoma. I welcomed her presence, kept looking up and grinning at her, enjoying her luminous beauty.

It was that long trip home to see Dad.  At eighty seven he worried so I hated that my work, rather my obsession with work, caused me to get a late start and drive in the dark.

Preferring the comfort of home at night, I’d rather just hang out with my pet family and read.  And, I can’t see squat in the dark anymore so I don my distance glasses when I drive at night and the heart thumps a tad faster.

Seventy five miles from Dad’s thin fingers of white fog began to float by me.  I thought it would simply ebb and flow from low lying areas to higher ground, but this fog lingered-much like the new ache in my spirit.

As I meandered through the hills and the threads of fog I wondered how many times I had made this long old trip.  It began when I first left home for college at seventeen; the years blew by so quickly.  I am sixty one now, so many trips. As I drove on through the fog I thought of Robert Frost’s words, “miles to go before I sleep”.  They seemed prophetic to me as I felt my life spiral down.

The further south I drove the thicker the fog became; I slowed down to sixty miles per hour. That last stretch of road is just a two lane state highway for the most part;  it bends and twists along, lined with pine woods on either side.

My feelings about this old trip also meandered back and forth; I hated it and I loved it.  When I was young and full of myself I drove waaay over the speed limit to get it over with. (A grand collection of speeding tickets confirm this.) Back in the day, I could finesse my way out of one from time to time.  Once, Kelly and I actually bribed a young highway patrolman with a baggie of homemade chocolate chip cookies.  He smiled, took them and drove away.

My youth and self-absorption resented the trip and having to make it. I would hurry back on Sunday only to find that I had left behind those who would always stand with me.  With passing years I was more likely to drive back with tears in my eyes, wishing I could stay longer.

I hated the physical distance the trip placed between my parents and me over the years.  And, the panic I always felt when one of them was sad or in the hospital, knowing it would take me at least four hours to get there. Every celebration, every holiday, every funeral, and every conversation that needed to take place had to wait-for that long trip home.

But now I loved the solace of the trip, time to collect my thoughts, to record them, and to sing-loudly, and very badly.  It also opened the door to silence, so I could hear God. The long trip home was illuminating more often than not.

On the last leg of this trip I was so weary; the fog had become thicker and thicker.  This was exactly where I hit the deer a few years ago. She came out of the woods on the right side; I saw her stop, stand there, and look right up at me.  I uttered a telepathic prayer, hoping she and God would both get the message for her to stay put.  Why she jumped right in front of me I’ll never know.

Remembering that dreadful day I slowed down to forty miles per hour.  By now visibility was greatly reduced and I switched to fog lights. I could only really see about twenty yards ahead.

I stopped and called Dad, whom I knew was looking at the clock and wondering.

At twenty five miles out I was white knuckled and driving through dense cotton candy. The woods I could typically see to the left and right had simply vanished; I could only see about ten yards ahead. Even the familiar country homes that I knew lined both sides of the road were invisible. I was exhausted and driving on faith.

So many times life requires driving slowly through the mystery, living in the unknowing. Did the interviewer think I was right for the job? Will the sale of the house go through? Will the next commission check be enough? Will this person have the depth of commitment for a long term relationship? Will my body remain healthy enough to enter the 10k?

As the God of full moon watched over me that long night, I thought back over my forty four year relationship with the trip,  the weariness and mysteries it brought. And, I knew I’d miss this long old fatiguing trip home when I no longer had a hug awaiting me at the end of the road.

 

“We had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac