Monday, May 31, 2010

what to do with elephant poo

Now I have never actually seen elephant poo. But I can imagine it.
And sometimes things have happened in my life that do look, feel, and smell like a big plop of elephant poo messing things up royally!
These roses, believe it or not, are made of paper made of elephant poo by very clever and enterprising people in southeast Asia. My daughter sent them to me for Mother's Day with the note "Forever roses for my forever Mom." Nice. Funny. Inspiring.
After all, if people can make something lovely in such a clever, resourceful way out of something else that seems like nothing but a big smelly mess to clean up, can't I do the same?
Instead of bewailing the mess sitting in the middle of my life, why not get creative and see if I can make something good and beautiful out of it. Not easy, I know. But possible. But how?
Ponder how the present form of the mess could be recreated into another form.
Ponder how to see the possibilities.
Ask other people for their ideas, and perhaps their help.
It takes time....but its worth it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

the still point of my turning world

There is a very special place near Three Rivers Michigan where I have been going on retreat for 31 years.
I began in 1979, going there for a four day retreat to prepare myself for my ordination as a Presbyterian minister. I kept going all through the years to help me keep my sacred vow to stay Centered in God, and always make time for communion with God, no matter how fast my world was turning, even when it seemed I had not time. Every month, and later, after I discovered another retreat place (MorningStar) I loved, every season, I would go to St. Gregory's abbey on personal retreat. I also introduced many people to the place, and church groups as well. It was there my good friend Lillian Sigal and I were inspired to begin the Interfaith Dialogue Association in Grand Rapids many years ago. Over and over again, while there, I have been renewed, refreshed, and revived. My journals reveal wonderful Divine wisdom revealed to me in hours of solitude and prayer.
This is the only Episcopal Benedictine Abbey in the whole nation, and it is so near to me!
I bless the monks and all whose dedication has made its existence possible. I wonder if they know how much good they have done to how many people!
Today, it is a small community of a half dozen monks. But they have a wonderful library, guest houses, a beautiful chapel that feels like The Ark; and seven times a day the bells ring out calling the faithful to pray the Daily Office. You can join the monks in the chapel to chant the psalms as much or little as you like. When I do, I feel I am flowing in a river of prayer that has gone on and on for centuries, a River of Life bringing blessing to the world.
In the pictures above, there is a path (like others) that leads through peaceful woodlands and meadows, free for the walking when you are there. There is an old fashioned farm house named St. Denys, which I love to stay in best. One of the pictures is of the bedroom I always chose (one of five) for it overlooks the monastic quadrangle and the church. From there I can hear the bells most clearly. It reminds me of being back in my childhood home of Pakistan, and hearing the call to prayer five times a day from the minarets of the mosques which surrounded our compound. I wish there was something like that where I live now.
Come to think of it, the other day when I was walking on the beach, the wind was blowing from the East, and I could hear the chimes from nearby St. Peter's calling the faithful to Mass.
There is something about a rhythm of prayer and life activities that is deeply refreshing, and to hear bells or calls to prayer making the times to stop and remember God and why you are here and how to live is to me a great blessing and aid to the practice of the Presence of God, which is what people of all faith are called to do. For we are all forgetful of the Divine too often, and we need help with staying faithful to our calling.
St. Gregory's has helped me do that. It is, as T. S. Eliot says so eloquently, "The Still Point of the turning world." Yes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

living with books

A friend of mine some time ago gave me a little sign that serves as a refrigerator magnet. It reads "A room without books is like a body without a soul."
For me, that is true.
There is no room where I live that does not have a fairly good supply of books in it---some on shelves, some on tables, some on the fireplace, some on the piano---well, see for yourself in the pictures that accompany this blog. I could have taken many more of books in various places in the house, but I thought these would suffice to make my point, which is this: books are really important in my life. Some, of course, like certain people, come and go. They have something to offer, but I outgrow them, and then I let them go to a church bazaar, or Goodwill, or some other place where I hope they will be read and appreciated.
Then there are other books which are more than a "good read." They are good friends.
Many of them I have read and re-read. They are underlined, have notes in the margin, and comments in the front or back. When I read a book like this, I feel I am in direct communication with the author's spirit. So when I stand, sit, or move through a room, I am always aware of the books that reside there---reminders of the spirits of so many people from so many times and places whose wisdom and work have blessed and inspired and challenged and guided me through my life.
But let me hasten to assure you that I love the actual physicality of books too. No kindle books, audio books, and the like, can please me like a well made book. Actual books have heft, and that certain smell a book can have, pages to turn, the possibility of flipping here and there in the book, enjoying any art it may contain---or just the visual lay out. I can notice what I underlined or noted when last I read the book. I can check the table of contents, or a footnote, or the bibliography. Each physical book has its own character and qualities, which sometimes fit with the content quite well. It is no wonder that I love spending time in bookstores (especially used book stores) and libraries! Just being in the presence of all those books, arranged to invite browsing and reading, can put me in an altered state---a good one!
At such times, I realize what a joy and privilege it is to have access to books, and be able to read them. I grew up in Pakistan at a time, and amongst people, the majority of whom were poor and illiterate, and had never owned or read a book, nor did they even dream of doing so. Sometimes I would see a group of little boys (never girls) under a tree chanting verses from the Koran in imitation of a teacher who sat with them teaching them to learn the words by heart.
This brings to mind a stunning picture I saw in the wonderful photography show of a few years ago that toured the country, entitled "Ashes and Snow." The picture depicts a young boy reading a book (it looks like some sacred scripture) to a kneeling elephant who is facing him, looking as if it is listening intently. Hmmmm perhaps I should read great books to my dog now and then! There is something magical about human wisdom and words being captured in writing in a book to be shared and passed on to---how many others? Even animals??!!
Some people have told me that books are going to become a thing of the past. I don't believe it. Maybe for some people--but never for me, and I believe never for a lot of other people either. Are you one of them? As long as I live, I hope I will be able any day, any hour, to pick one of my good books off one of my shelves, and go sit by the fire, or out in the hammock, or on the beach, or wherever---and read, communing with someone's spirit and wisdom, to my heart's content. That's living! with books!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Where have all the binkies gone?

I was cleaning out my kitchen drawers today, and there amongst the rubber bands, dishcloths, glue, tape, bottle brush, birthday candles, and such, I found one bright red "binkie" aka baby pacifier. I know it has lain there, unused, unsucked, for a year or two at least. I kept it there "just in case" it was needed by our youngest grandchild, Sammy, when the family was here for a weekend. I must admit, a tear or two came to my eyes, for Sammy will be starting school this fall, and he is the youngest of our grandchildren. I will never again get to hold a grand-baby, or feed a beloved infant a bottle, or bounce a toddler on my knee. No more need for that pacifier.
But you know, I just could not throw it in the trash. So I put it with my favorite picture of Sammy as a baby, and took these snapshots, as a kind of bittersweet celebration of another milestone passed in his life, and mine. And I wondered what Sammy most seeks now when he needs the comfort the binkie used to give him.
And then I wondered what most comforts me when I am out of sorts these days. What takes the place of a "binkie" for me? for you? I venture to guess that for some men, a cigar does the trick! Maybe candy does it for lots of big and little people. Dark chocolate is certainly a good stand-in for a binkie for me! So is time out alone in nature---walking in the dunes, reading on the beach, watching a sunset. And a cup of really good coffee with a really good friend. Prayer and music are good "binkies" too. I am not sure I will ever outgrow these things, as Sammy outgrew his pacifier. But there are grown-up binkies we grownups should outgrow, don't you think? Like mindless TV watching, trash reading, shopping just to fill time, long gossip-filled conversations that go nowhere, alcohol, drugs, etc. You might add your own list.
Whatever your binkies were, are, or will be....the truth is, we humans do need comfort from time to time, for life can be stressful. As Sammy knows very well, our needs and wants are often not met, even by people who love us. Sometimes we have to settle for a great deal less! After all, what is a binkie compared with a breast? Still, a binkie is pretty harmless, and maybe that is about the best we can do sometimes--chose something for relief and comfort that is pretty harmless.
All the while, it is good to remember that "this too shall pass." Babies grow up, binkies do get thrown out, our needs and desires change, we do leave certain habits behind. And in some cases, it's about time! It is, after all, never too late to grow up!
Yet, yet---- I hope Sammy never loses that wonderful fresh, joyful, little child spirit that shines through in this picture. And I hope I never lose that part of me either. These days as I near the end of my 6th decade, I am deliberately cultivating that little child part of me. But that is the subject for another blog. For today....the little red binkie goes back in the drawer until I can bear to throw it away, or perhaps give it to Sammy's mom to keep with other treasures from his babyhood. And in my heart is a great big smile of gratitude for the joyful memories I can cherish of precious times with grandchildren when they were babies.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pre-destination: or The Future is Bright

Can it be that I have let so much time slip by since my last blog?
It could be because I am now in Michigan in our little old cottage on the Big Lake, and having travelled across the country dodging dust storms and tornadoes, am now safely ensconced in this little piece of paradise. More on that soon! I plan to be blogging at least 3x a week now that I am finally adjusted to Michigan. It is quite a change from Arizona!
For today though, I want to reflect on an old fashioned word which has special importance for the Christian/Calvinist tradition: PRE-DESTINATION. I was inspired to reflect on this word and its possible meanings by a piece of a Mother's Day Sermon in which the minister was quoting "The Weight of Glory" by C.S. Lewis. He reminded us that every one of us human beings is destined by God to reflect more and more of God's glory, forever and ever. No matter what our present flaws and failings, our destiny is to be the true Image/Representation of God. C.S.Lewis says that if we were to see someone as they will someday be when they have become all they were meant to be, we would be tempted to fall down and worship them!
Now the meanings more often associated in Calvinism with "Predestination" are something else. The doctrine functions to try and explain why some people seem to believe and live faithful, good lives, and others do not, even when they have ample opportunity to know and love God. The explanation is that God, in His inscrutable wisdom, chooses some people to be "saved" and others not, for reasons not available to our understanding. Underlying this view is the belief that humans really don't have free will....they are so conditioned and influenced by their inborn and flawed human nature that they really can't choose for God or good unless God grants them the grace to do so. And God, it seems according to this view, is picky.
Now I do not want to debate this perspective in this blog, but I do want to say that I have big problems with it. Instead, I find it is helpful, encouraging, and joyful to focus on predestination as the truth that each of us humans has a destiny so glorious as to be beyond our imaginations.
Here on this earth where we "see through a glass darkly" even the best of us manages to reflect but a smidgen of the incredible BEauty/Glory/Goodness/Love of God. But as we go through this life and life after this life, whatever that may be, we will all eventually come to BE, fully, the Image and likeness of God we were created to be, and that will be glorious beyond belief.
Now I cannot prove this, or disprove it, and neither can you. It is something I freely and gladly chose to believe, because it gives me hope, and helps me to see myself, and others, (especially when they are acting like anything but the Image of God!) with "future eyes." Rather than dwell on what is wrong with me or others, I can realize my and their potential, which is God given and God ordained. Because God is Love, God desires the very best for every one S/he has created, and the very best is a marvelous destiny indeed.
With this is mind, I can let God's Promises and destiny for me and others shape my present perspective. Then the question becomes "How can I live in such a way that I am constantly expanding and expressing the qualities of God/Good in my life, and how can I help others do the same?"
I love the pictures I posted as expressions of this truth. One is of my little grand daughter Daniella, who, to her grandmother's eyes, is already expressing a LOT of God in who she is. The other is of a painting of Mary Magdelene as apostle of the Risen Christ, and to me, this picture is another revelation of the glorified body/soul that is aready ours as a seed of Divine Potential within us, and will someday be full grown in us and as us. Sometimes, when I am not feeling good, I recall that I already have a "Glorified body and soul"----and when I focus on that truth I feel a lot better. Until I forget.
May you remember, often, your Divine destiny, and that of others too.
If you, or they, are "falling short of the Glory of God" --- its temporary. Its a stage, a learning curve, a piece of the past. A time will come when even the memory of "what's wrong" will be gone, a shadow swallowed up by the Light of the Divine Destiny that awaits us.