Easy to Take

EASY TO TAKE

Life is full of things that are hard to take, like criticism, break-ups, and all that laxative you need to drink before a colonoscopy. But there are some things that are easy to take.

A little child’s pudgy arms thrown around your neck.
The song of a red-throated finch perched right by your front porch.
A massage in a darkened, scented room with a Zen fountain bubbling.
Sinking into your comfortable chair and taking off your shoes after a long day.
Hours in a beach chair reading a page-turning book while the Pacific whispers rhythmically on the sand.
Cherry-flavored cough drops that don’t work but taste wonderful.
The wide-eyed thank-you from a homeless man when you give him a twenty.
Hot water pounding from the shower onto your aching forehead.
Climbing gratefully into your own bed with your own pillow after a long absence sleeping on strange mattresses.
When the dentist says “All done” and takes that little napkin off your neck.
The sound of your name in a loved-one’s voice.

RED INK IN THE BLOOD

Red Ink in the Blood

I taught English literature and composition for 33 years. I hated grading papers, but it was my duty. I was paid to correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation and to teach students how to avoid getting my red ink on their papers by writing it right the first time.

On Facebook I see many errors made, and I see many rants from people angry about the mistakes of others. Making others wrong is an ego ploy to make you feel right and therefore superior to the others. I resist getting into the rants, and I resist correcting spelling and other errors in people’s posts.

In the last two weeks, however, I have heard two people mispronounce the word “homage.” Instead of saying “OM-idge” they said “oh-MAZH” rhyming with the French word “fromage.” One of these speakers holds a PhD in English.

So, I have given my ego permission to write this post, just to let out my irritation at the mispronunciation of “homage.” I know English is one of the most adaptive and adoptive of languages, changing usage readily and receiving words from other languages with open arms, unlike the previously mentioned French. If enough ignorant people keep saying “oh-MAZH” on television and radio, very soon it will be accepted as the standard pronunciation. Why does that bother me?

Power and Control. In my learning and practice of Centering (Contemplative) Prayer, I have seen how my need for power and control have added to my suffering and prevented me from being my true, loving self. Here it is again. Now that I am retired, I have no students that I can teach the proper pronunciation of “homage.” I have lost the teacher’s power, and I certainly have no control of Facebook. I feel helpless to hold back the tide of mispronunciation that threatens the English-speaking world.

There. That feels better.

Keep Calm, and Love Thy Neighbor.

Angel Numbers in My Addresses

My spiritual friend Sheree believes in angels. She suggested a book by Doreen Virtue on Angel Numbers. The first numbers I looked up were the addresses of the houses I have lived in . Here are the results:

643 Clark Avenue: Angels watch over your family to make sure all your needs are met. Indeed, this is the house where I lived as a child—growing up with my little brother and playing in the neighborhood. I felt safe and fulfilled; after all, I had the neatest playhouse, built by my grandpa.

1156 Karesh: Your powerful intentions are guiding you through this time of transition. Stay positive and focused through these times of change. Be careful to balance your thoughts about material possessions with faith. I lived here for a long time, through most of elementary school, all of junior high and high school, and through college. My first wedding reception was held in the backyard of this house. Lots of transitions took place in this house, including my mother’s funeral reception. I was unchurched myself, but I visited church with most of my friends. My non-existent faith got no encouragement from my secular teachers.

1017 Flora: Center your thoughts on God, creativity, and peace. You are on the right path. Creative? Yes. Amy was brought home from the hospital to this address. It was my refuge after divorce. It was a peaceful, happy time (mostly). I don’t think I was thinking much about God, though; my second wedding was performed by a judge.

6871 Shelton: You are on the right path with the actions you have chosen to manifest divine abundance in all ways. Watch your thoughts; focus on desires not fears. This is the first house we bought, and it was a good choice. Pippa was born while we lived here, and we were all baptized and started regular church attendance at this time. I did not keep my thoughts focused on the good and started into depression, trying to make myself happy with material things.

11015 Charleston: Keep your thoughts focused on God during this time of transition and change. You create your reality with thoughts and beliefs. Engage in creative activities and avoid addictive behaviors. God helped me through the painful times in this house: family strife, awful headaches, job loss, depression, therapy. I finally came to understand how my thoughts created my depression. Creativity was mostly in decorating the new house. Our time here ended with a major move to a new area.

44864 Linalou: The “Angels of Abundance” are with you, helping you receive your Divine inheritance. They are making sure your needs are met as you focus on your spiritual path. The more gratitude you show them, the more you open the flow of support. This is the house I live in now. It is the house where I began my conscious spiritual journey, joining DOK, learning centering prayer, going on retreats, reading about spiritual matters, writing songs about God in my life. My needs are being met so I have time to focus on the spirit. We ring our prayer bell daily and thank God for all his gifts.

So, there you have it. The way the numbers coincide with the way life went during my residence in these houses is fascinating to me. Maybe later, I will write about my phone numbers. They are even more awesome.

Mantis

Reflection on one of God’s creatures, or two.

MANTIS

Coming in from shopping one day, I encountered a mantis on the stucco by the front door. I think mantises are the oddest and most fascinating little creatures. You may have noticed that I haven’t written “praying” mantis. That is because I am not sure how to spell it.

I think “praying” is correct because the little guys are holding their green arms in front of them as if folded in prayer. In their contemplative stillness, they seem to be the most devout of the insect kingdom.

However, I have also heard tell that mantises are killers—of other insects. They prey on aphids, beetles, and other pesky crawlers. So, in my mind’s eye, I see the word spelled “preying” mantis.

Maybe the paradox of the praying mantis adds to its appeal. A still, sculptural, devout green insect waiting patiently, perhaps reciting an inner mantra, and then POUNCING on an unsuspecting aphid to devour it pitilessly.

How many of my fellow church-goers, so pure and holy as they kneel in confession, leave the church parking lot only to cut someone off on the freeway, flipping the bird as they race toward the casino, the bar, or the secret tryst with an illicit lover.

We advanced human life forms tend to think of insects as low, simple creatures. But, like us, the praying mantis is more than meets the eye.

Reflection on a Dead Dog

This morning my friend Tanya posted on Facebook about a violent incident she witnessed in her neighborhood. A man was kicking his dogs with his children crying and screaming nearby. He kicked one into the street where it was run over by a car and “died instantly.” Afterwards he returned laughing to the house.

More disturbing to me were the follow-up comments by Tanya’s Facebook friends who said things like, “I would like to be the one to kick him into the street and laugh as he got run over,” “People who abuse dogs should be tortured,” and “Guys like that don’t deserve to live.”

The scenario has lingered in my mind all morning, and I feel called to reflect on it. I posted, “I am enjoined to love my enemies.” What does that mean? I certainly am not called to approve of the man’s actions. I am, however, challenged to have compassion. Father Tom said the other night that “compassion” was “invented” by early Christians. I don’t know if I buy that. However, compassion is the kind of love I think Jesus means, so I am going to explore my compassion for the principals in the story: the dead dog, the children, the other dogs, the driver of the car, the man, and the Facebook posters who want revenge.

The dead dog: If indeed the dog “died instantly,” then my compassion for it is small. In fact, the dog is better off out of a household where it gets constant abuse. Ironically, the posters seem to value the dog more than any of the others in the story and want to commit murder and torture to avenge it.

The children: One of the most shocking memories from my childhood was the day I heard my dad yell the word “Fuck” and slam the door of his Jeep, angry that he had forgotten to set the parking brake. I will never forget how ugly his face looked at that moment. He was transformed into a stranger, a monster. The children who had to see their father committing this ugly cruelty will probably never forget that day. The image of their daddy as their protector and model is forever shattered (if it hadn’t been shattered before). Whether or not they follow their father’s example and perpetuate the cycle of violence, they get my compassion.

The other dogs: I feel more for the other dogs than for the dead one. They seem doomed to a life of fear and pain. Perhaps some mature adult in the family will try to find better homes for them.

The driver of the car: I feel compassion for the innocent bystander drawn into this horror story just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hope that he can avoid feeling guilt for the accident.

The man: Now here’s the hard one. Tanya says she can “feel sorry” for the man but not “love” him. I think she is saying “compassion” in different words. Anger can be the result of loss of control in our lives. The man had clearly lost control of his dogs when they ran away. But chances are the man has lost control in other areas: he has a low-paying job and a manager who treats him disrespectfully, his wife is distant since he has become so abusive, his kids are withdrawn or rebellious, and he has taken to drinking more than is good for him. The one place where he has always been boss is with the dogs, and today that all fell apart, too. When he ran amok, kicking the dogs, he lost control of himself. Addiction to power and control separates us from Love. We think we are God and we run the show. When the falsity of that stares us in the face, we get angry. The man couldn’t control the dogs; my dad couldn’t control the Jeep; they both got angry and ugly. I have compassion because I have done this myself many times, though not to a dog. When I feel loss of power, I get angry.

The Facebookers: For Tanya I feel much compassion because she witnessed the event. Though there may be some truth that we have become inured to violence on TV and in films, I am still shocked by violence in person. People are never more ugly and sub-human than when they are hitting each other or kicking animals. I hate seeing this side of us, and Tanya can be compassionated for her emotions and her desire to get away from there.

Some of Tanya’s friends are in the same boat with “the man.” They are angry that they can’t control the actions of others, so they are willing to act out their anger in violence. Perhaps violence was modeled for them in their childhood. It is modeled for them on television and other media. Don’t like someone’s actions—kick his ass! Also, Facebook tends to escalate emotional posts. Since you are not face-to-face with the person you are answering, you might feel free to use more inflammatory language than you would use in person. Your violent words may touch off a powder-keg of divisive replies that lead to people saying things they would never say in a different context. Also, people talk big. It’s easy to say you would torture someone or push them laughing in front of a car, but can you actually see yourself doing so?

Thank you, God, for laying this incident so heavily on my heart. I hope that my reflections are in line with your gospel. You made us in your image and you love us all, even the man who killed his dog. Only love, which you are, can heal this whole scenario, and I pray that your will be done. Amen.

They Also Serve

My title comes from the sonnet “On His Blindness” by John Milton in which he laments that his blindness now keeps him from using what he (rightly?) considered his greatest talent: writing.  He wonders why God would give him such a gift and then block its use.  In the end he hears God’s answer:  “They also serve that only stand and wait.”

The two lessons I am learning from my experience as a writer are patience and humility.  I have not learned them yet.  I struggle with one or both daily.  Since I used to get attention for writing plays in elementary school, I have fed my ego with writing.  I was labeled “gifted” and set on the path of self-aggrandizement.  God seems to be using this “gift” to teach me that it IS A GIFT,  not my doing.  Ego separates us from God.  If we can let our pride go, we will have more room for God in our hearts.

How hard it must have been for the proud Milton to “stand and wait”  humbly.  It is hard for me.  Dear Lord, give me strength to wait patiently and not to despair.  I want to trust that it will all be right in the end.  And to quote from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,  “If it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”   Amen.

Meditation on Psalm 18:30

“The promise of the Lord proves true”

The word “proves” shows that we can’t know whether God is fulfilling his promise until LATER. It is in hindsight, after we are out of the period of desolation, that we can see God’s redemption.  This comforts me because when I’m in a low place I always feel far from God and abandoned.  I need to relax, knowing that God’s promises always prove true, in hindsight.

I am listening to a ten-hour lecture on the Rules of St. Ignatius on a DVD Miriam gave me for Christmas.  Ignatius confesses that life will be a rollercoaster of consolation (spiritual good times) and desolation (dark times).  PERIOD. However, armed with knowledge of this and of his rules, we can make the dark times shorter.  This is very helpful.  A happier life is the result.  You store up God’s love in the good times to get you through the bad.

“WHEN you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord” says the same thing.  You can’t prevent it forever; you can only turn to the Lord when it happens.