Coping With Being Human

In the wake of the horror in Tucson, introspection forces me to ask the question: why hope?  That, and seeing the question posed in a couple of other places in the last few days. I figure God is nudging me, so I ponder.

I don’t have much new to add I suspect to the mix. I’ve always been shocked and amazed at the lengths the human person will go to survive; well beyond what might seem rational at times.

One can say, well, animals do as much. And indeed they do. Every animal will fight to live until the bitter end. But of course, they don’t have the fine ability to assess their chances, they have no idea of consequences, they cannot reflect on a life lived and conclude that enough is enough.

We humans can do all those things. And the fact that we don’t hurl ourselves off cliffs with regularity suggests that something more is at work. It is something in our DNA undoubtedly, something that drives us, regardless of common sense, to hope, to struggle until we breathe our last.

Some would argue no doubt that it is part of our evolutionary primitive brain. Like animals, the urge to live and procreate overwhelms our senses and we never give in to simple acceptance of our fate. Our atheist friends would argue that our belief in a god is but another attempt to forestall the inevitable death, by promoting a concept of eternal life in the Creator.

That may be true, or not. We each will learn that at the appropriate time. But I find it hard to believe why there is such a strong desire to live at all costs, that is simply evolutionary in nature. Why and how does such a thing come about? One can claim that those with stronger drives to survive, survive in greater numbers and procreate, and thus dominate the landscape. So what? Why need this be so?

No, an equally cogent claim can be that our God has placed within us this urge to live, that it pleases our Creator that we live and grow, hopefully in relationship with each other and with the Godhead.

Yet this doesn’t explain why WE hope, or why I hope. Surely I can point to various times in history, and to places today, where life is mean and harsh. Where life is cheap, short-lived, and brutal. Where life doesn’t seem worth the living frankly.

In contemplating that, I can place my own anger and hopelessness at the state of our country and of some within it, in some perspective.

Still, that is no answer, for we are all, in the end, products of our own time and place. Empathize as I do, as I can, cannot supplant the reality of the only world I know, my own. And so my afflictions are the medical problems, however minor, that I suffer, the political intransigence that I witness, the pigheadedness I engage with regarding all manner of issues, and the carelessness toward Mother Earth that I endure.

And yet I remain hopeful.

Somehow, in the cold and snow of another miserable winter, I arise with some measure of hope, even though the day will proceed nearly the same as yesterday. It will be mundane, with small points of laughter, but as many of anger, and angst, of frustration, with smatterings of relaxation, satiety, and peace.

I can look at the events of Tucson and see bravery amid the blood. I can see selflessness amidst the carnage. I can see messages of hope that spring like spring flowers from the asphalt of a red spattered parking lot.

I read this yesterday:

“Last week we saw a white Catholic male Republican judge murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean American combat surgeon, and this all was eulogized by our African-American President.” ~ Mark Shields,

I witnessed tributes to  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., yesterday that I would not have witnessed twenty years ago, certainly not thirty. I see the numbers rising in support of the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Women in positions of power and authority are commonplace, hardly remarkable any more.

I can watch television shows and movies that push the envelope, making us see gay families, transgenders, immigrants, and all the “others” in our society as simple people like ourselves, who hope, dream, love, desire, work, play, laugh and cry just as we do. Make no mistake, media has great power to help us along here.

We watched GLEE for the first time, last night. Yeah I know, late to the party. We thought it was a teen show, and we learned something quite different. Gays, physically impaired, emotionally scarred, the dangers of penal institutions to our youth, the realities of so much of life that we sweep under rugs in our minds. They showed it all in frankness, in honesty, but lovingly with hope.

This is why I hope. We have the capacity to each day be a bit better than the day before. And by the grace of God, or by our own genetic  where with all, we seem to do it. I trust we will.

I hope.

It’s Really Too Late

Are you starting to panic? Too much left to do and not enough time? Forgetaboutit! Tis the season to enjoy friends and family and good eats. Stop obsessing!

Easy to say I know. Not having to shop is a big plus. I’m in truffles today. I have them all set up on cookie sheets, just letting them harden up a bit before I do the rolling. This year it’s ground almonds, cocoa, sprinkles, and powdered sugar. I have 39, so ten of each except one.

Tomorrow the nut clusters and I have all the yummy cookie, candy stuff done. The cooking should be easy on Saturday. One casserole which throws together and the ham. The rest is just a veggie and a relish tray, and heating up some stuffing. Have to remember to get that out of the freezer tomorrow.

If you are deep into reflection on the true “reason for the season” however you define that, then you might find some uplifting thoughts at Women Beneath the Cross‘s, The Magnificat: Realizing God’s DreamCommonweal, in a short reflection tells us Jesus’ flight into Egypt, while of course echoing Moses, also speaks eloquently to immigrants today, and the dangerous lives they face. And Michael Hogue from Tikkun Daily Blog, reminds us that the only answer is hope in incremental improvements in a very imperfect world.

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I guess it’s pretty late for crafts, but you might want to stop by a Michael’s after the holidays and pick up some of these for next year to do. They are those old rather nasty looking “bottle brush” trees. Most everyone has had one or more of these in the past. Vickie at Uncommon Artistic Endeavors has all the simple directions to turn these cheap “trees” into real stunning decorations.

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I know that poetry, like most art is somewhat subjective. What I love, you loathe, or points between. But this poem, called Aristotle from 3quarksdaily, is simply stunning in its imagery. Please do yourself a favor and take a look. I don’t think you will be sorry.  

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Sometimes prayers are answered like immediately. I kid you not. (that was a popular saying back in the day.) We have this cat, Calvin. He’s a beauty, all orangey and spotted. He likes milk, and he bawls at you when he wants it. He’s taken to sitting on the table with me in the morning and following along with morning prayer.

He usually prowls around with the other boy cats during the night. Last night he was absent. This usually causes a minor concern that he has been let outside and forgotten. All doors are checked. He is not around.

So I figure he’s just hunkered down in one of his hidy-holes.  In the morning, no Calvin emerges to join me for Thursday, Week IV, antiphons and psalms. I begin to worry. As we discover various hidy-holes, he creates new ones. Is the tyke sick?

So, I’m doing my prayers, and I say, “God, will you push Calvin out into the open just so we know he’s okay?” Less than ten seconds go by, before I hear a rustling behind me. A large box is on the table, on its side, and Kate has taken to it as her refuge. When I look, Calvin is rearranging himself in it. Been there all night no doubt.

God, busy as things get, seems to have time for my simple request. :)

Believe it, or not, as you wish.

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It’s a slow day. What can I say. The truffles are done, and dinner is in the oven.

What’s on the stove: Arroz Con Pollo. Stuffed celery. Rolls.

Never Look A Grace Horse in the Mouth

As many of you know, its been a rough winter here in the meadow. But heck, it has been rough across the land. My complaints have been more to the personal meadow issues than the mere cataloging of inches of snow, and days below freezing or without sun.

I’ve tread water a good deal of the time, putting one foot in front of the other as it were, and not much more. I’ve been sustained in part by the good wishes and commiserating thoughts of so many of you.

It is not until, as my good friend Ruth, over at Visions and Revisions, pointed out, she felt the first bubblings of “hope” returning, that I was able to truly “see” what was going on in my life. I said at the time, that I had not yet had that feeling, but I can relate, that today, I have.

Yesterday, a friend said in words to this effect: “How do I answer my non-believing friends that my faith has logic and sense to it?” One of our clergy replied, “Somethings are not of the mind, but are truth as seen from the heart.” And what follows surely is understandable by the believer and will be dismissed by those who do not believe as so much “wishful” thinking or some such dismissive remark.

For, today, I stand fully aware of the special graces given me during this Lenten period. Graces that have allowed me to persevere in the face of sometimes onerous calamities. As is often the case, grace reveals itself in the people we come in contact with. It certainly expressed that way for me.

Jan at Yearning for God, sent me a wonderful Lenten practice that I’ve been doing on being sensitive to our “carbon footprint”  and being mindful of our consumerism. Ellen, a truly gifted and dedicated friend from church, pointed me in the direction of a site called “Journey to the Cross, which has been a daily source of inspiration. It speaks to me so clearly some days, saying just what I most need to hear. Tim, from Straight-Friendly has been unfailingly supportive and offerer of gems of wisdom that bespeak a very very old soul indeed.

It is in one sense deeply unfair to single out only these four, for indeed there are many, almost too numerous to mention who have been there at the exact time I needed them to be, with words of wisdom, offerings of help, or simple empathetic understanding.

It all broke open for me yesterday, when at last I was able to return to church. To gather for education hour and enjoy and benefit from the amazing gifts of so many was inspiring. To talk about and meditate on “the NOW” with such rich gifts as the members of my parish is grace indeed. To worship together in love and commitment, with sincerity and joy, is inspiring indeed. I came away refreshed, renewed and full of, yes indeed, hope.

Hope bubbled up once more, just as Ruth describes it in her posting of a couple of days ago. Urged forth by the warm welcome I received by so many, and the ease with which I slipped back into familiar but meaningful patterns of prayer and worship, hope returned in the bright sun of a Sunday afternoon.

It was truly not that things were so bad, for truly they were not. Most of the crises I suffered were over fairly soon, within hours some times, within a day or so on others. But the cabin fever mentality is wearing. Those who know depression know what I mean. You awaken with the sigh of another day doing the same old same old, and it seems almost not worth the effort of getting up. The rut of sameness looms large. Just getting out among others helps, changes one’s perspective.

I felt, as I left the church building, the gurgling of a spring within my chest. The birds twittered, my step was more lively. I smiled at strangers, and shared a laugh at the design of shopping carts. I chatted with the young man checking my groceries. I fell back in love with the world again.

I saw, finally the deep grace God has offered me, in the people and places I was able to access. I was reminded of the deep blessing of Carolyn and Karen and Barbara and so many others who checked in with me, and offered words of comfort. God works that way a lot. Through the willingly open person who offers himself as conduit for Grace.

We are urged always to seek to put on the mind of Christ. I am blessed, for I have seen that mind mirrored to me again and again during these past weeks. I didn’t always see it at the time, but I do now. I see the fine tapestry of interwoven lives that encompass me and uphold me. I am grateful. I am blessed. I thank all of you, named and unnamed.

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Hope Springs Eternal?

prayerIt’s been one of those mornings. Not to my liking by a long shot. Even Bear looked up with disgust as if to say, “Oh good grief, grow up, it’s raining, stop your silly complaining and take a nap.” Which he then preceded to return to.

I didn’t go to church today. I should have, and could have, but I didn’t. I woke up several times during the night and heard the rain whipping against the house, thinking of the lane getting worse and worse with each drop. The holes fill in the in low spots, and become large enough for the dogs to leisurely take a bath in. By 5:30, I decided I wouldn’t go.

The Contrarian had worked long and hard to smooth it out. I could get out, but I would have torn it up a lot doing so. Set and satisfied with my decision, it helped not a bit when the Contrarian encouraged me to go. “Actually, tearing it up might help some, it will give me so ridges to pull dirt from and help smooth it even better.” Now my damned excuse was gone! My mood deteriorated further. Worse yet, by 8 the rain has ceased and the sky brightened as the weather people, my enemy today, said the break would last until evening when all hell would break loose again for some more hours of soggy goodness.

“Blessed by you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, for rains to feed all life on your earth.” I mumbled this through tight jaws, spitting out the words. I’d learned this Jewish blessing a few days earlier. Blessings were to be poured out at the rate of 100 per day, everything after Universe, created by the speaker to honor God for something close at hand–the mixer that kneaded the dough, the vacuum that sucked up the dust, the eyes that looked over slowly budding trees.

Then I recalled a post. Wounded Bird and Mimi wrote a post on how hope is the defining element of Christianity.  I think that is essentially true. We are a people of hope, we Christians. We hope for things unseen. We believe that Jesus was the Christ, the son of God. We believe that if we are faithful, however we define that, we will be with Jesus in heaven, however we define that. It is a hope for the future.

But then, hope is always for the future isn’t it? Hope is defined as “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out well.” According to Webster’s Dictionary at least. Notice that  hope is not irrational, it is the feeling that what is wanted CAN be had.

That is comforting. But hope is not the property of faith, far from it. It is clearly ingrained in the human psyche. The fact that we are here today is proof enough of that. If we lived without hope, then we would simply sit and rot. The race would have been extinct soon after it came to be.

Lack of hope is the nemesis of depression. It is the essential definition of this insidious disease after all, the feeling of utter hopelessness. Nothing can be more corrosive to the human mind. In fact, if it remains unchecked for too long, the mind gives up and destroys itself. People who are hopeful don’t kill themselves.

We know what Christians hope for, eternal life with God. Some other faiths have hopes for after lives as well and this is also easy to understand.

But what is the hope of the atheist? Or any faith-filled person whose religion has no such belief in a continuation of some sort?

I have been at a loss to understand what there is to hope for absent an afterlife frankly. I see people living in conditions that make me weep with frustration and sadness. I see people wracked with chronic pain and chronic disability that makes life difficult beyond measure. I see people spending thirty and forty years working eight hours a day at a job they hate. The list goes on and on. How do they continue I ask myself? How?

After all, if death  comes to all, and it does seem that way, then why do we strive? Why do we fight to leave legacies of achievement? We will not be here to see the accolades. Has Yul Brennar gained anything tangible because his movie “The Magnificent Seven,” is being shown today? He’s long dead, and if with God, I’m sure he’s way too busy to notice.

The only clear answer I ever get is that that those with children have reason to struggle, sacrifice and otherwise keep on steppin’ because everyone wants their kids to have it better than they did. That is pretty much true for every parent, though I’m sure there are exceptions. But then, we know what will come. They will, no matter how comfy we make them, still move toward inevitable death, wherein their triumphs will be meaningless, at least to them, and who else counts when you’re dead?

Sorry to be so depressing. But I’m a believer, and I have hope of that afterlife after all. But I can’t come up with a reason for the others. I just can’t seem to fathom in my dark moments how you keep on getting on with it, without this. Maybe Marx was right when he called religion the “opiate of the masses,” the thing that keeps them passive, and quiet while they are being exploited.

If Marx was right, it changes nothing really. That doesn’t make religion or faith invalid in the least, it just means we ought not fall subject to its being used to keep us passive to our own exploitation. Marx was speaking of Europe. Archbishop Oscar Romero could have said the same thing about Latin America.

What upsets me at moments like this, is that this is misuse of faith as far as I’m concerned. Using it to carry my hope for me. For indeed, as I said, it seems utterly ingrained in us all. I just don’t know where it comes from. Perhaps from that same place that allows us up to the moment of death to think without thinking that somehow we will escape it. It causes us to use that so funny phrase at every age, “if something happens to me,. . . .” IF???? Did you say IF? We never use WHEN, and the appropriate word is WHEN!!!!

So somebody come forth and explain to me the altruistic reasoning that allows the non-believer to have hope. Cuz, I feel mighty rotten in using my faith as a crutch. I want to love my God because he’s God, because he’s worth loving, and not just because he’s holding the best ever Christmas present ever devised, and promising it to me one day.

As Oscar Wilde said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Tell me of your stars.

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