Shame

I’m ashamed. I have been so negligent in posting to this blog and the reality is, my life is a Christian is so much more important to me than poetry or photography–the subject of my other two blogs.

But then, I think about a book I read over 25 years ago by John Bradshaw, a popular self-help guru at the time, Healing the Shame That Binds You, in which the author describes the toxicity of shame because it focuses on self image, the perception of our failure. As Christians, we have the ability to take our guilt to Jesus and accept his forgiveness, his loving compassion.

I suffer from the spiritually deadly disease of perfectionism and I can’t tell you how often I turn in my prayer to the image of the parable of the Prodigal Son and soak in the unconditional love of God for us. I say disease because, like shame, perfectionism focuses on self not love of God and others.

So I offer, once again, a copy of Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, and image I like to visualize when I’m turning inward instead of upward.

 

Image: Rembrandt The artist represented the abundance of parental love by painting one male hand and one female hand.

Image: Rembrandt–Detail
The artist represented the abundance of parental love by painting one male hand and one female hand.

Image: Rembrandt's Prodigal Son Wikipedia Commons

Image: Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son
Wikipedia Commons

As for my shame in not posting for a while, I will do what Bradshaw suggests: let go, do what you have to do to change (or to accept the lack of time and inspiration it takes to blog) and move on! Have a blessed week.

 

Get Over It–God Does

Photo: V. Slotto Zoe

Photo: V. Slotto
Zoe

I have a Jack Russell Terrier who is deaf. You may know that this is not a calm breed–independent, reactive, they require an extra dose of patience even when they are hearing. But they are fun, full of surprises and so lovable. Zoe is my little prayer partner, cuddling at my side when I spend time in prayer and reading scripture–her buddy, Sparky, usually flanking my other side.

First thing this morning, when I took the dogs for their walk and “duties” (we have no yard here in the desert) Zoe went ballistic, as she tends to, when a friend drove by in his golf cart. This is not unusual…sudden movements scare her, no doubt because of her hearing impairment. Usually I’m prepared, but this morning I lost it. I won’t go into detail.

When I returned home, I didn’t want to pray. I couldn’t bring myself to God after such a miserable failure…and really thought about just skipping that part of the day and getting on with my domestic chores. Then I happened to open my Kindle, which was on a page of “The Practice of the Presence of God”–a little volume you may have read by a 15th century monk named Brother Lawrence. This is what was on the page that I had highlighted:

“When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, I am used to doing so: I shall never do otherwise, if I am left to myself. I fail not, I give GOD thanks, acknowledging the strength comes from Him.” In other words, “Get over it.”

And so, I prayed. And after some really hectic weeks and prayer doldrums that accompany being too busy, God allowed me to know He is with me, even in my most pathetic moments.

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

I highly recommend this small volume. Find various translations on Amazon.com

 

Advent is My Favorite Time of Year

Photo: Labeled for non-commercial reuse

Photo: Labeled for non-commercial reuse

Christmas Advent is My Favorite Time of Year

(Flash Fiction)

Amy waited, none-too-patiently, in the interminable line at Walmart, drumming slender fingers on the handle of her cart, wondering what the hold-up was and questioning the wisdom of attempting to shop the day after Thanksgiving. Especially since she abhorred the commercialism of the season, not to mention, she wasn’t at all fond of crowds.

She ignored the queue forming behind her, and a glance to the left and right informed her that it was the same throughout the store. Impatient customers sighed, complained and even argued about who got to the checkout counter first.

The teenager manning the cash registered wore a Santa Cap and, incongruously, a scowl. Frustration oozed throughout the crowd. The cart behind her was loaded, Amy could tell without turning around, and she thanked her lucky stars that she had gotten there before whoever wielded that wobbly thing on non-compliant wheels.

A small voice, almost a whisper, spoke to her. Turning she saw a wizened little lady who had to be in her 80’s, if not her 90’s.

“I’m sorry,” Amy said. “Were you speaking to me?”

“Yes,” the elderly patron said. “I just said that December isn’t like it used to be. In my day, Advent came before Christmas, we gave up candy like we did for Lent. We prayed together, waited for the Wonder that was to come. Gifts just weren’t that important.”

Amy nodded, waited for the woman to go on.

A younger voice, a man, from an adjacent line joined in. “That’s how my mother made us prepare for Christmas, too. It was about what was to come. I don’t know, but for me, that made the anticipation all the more exciting, and Christmas day, we couldn’t think of even looking under the tree before Church.”

The conversation continued and Amy mostly listened, adding only a few “I see’s.” The overhead speakers blasted songs totally devoid of anything suggestive of the spiritual meaning of the holiday, more often chanting masked messages of “gimme, gimme, gimme.”

Amy became strangely aware of the emptiness of her own life. These two people had an entirely different perspective from her own. She told herself she would try to learn more about what made Advent, waiting so special to some people. After all, she was alone in this city. Her boyfriend had dumped her a month ago and it wasn’t that easy for her to make new friends.

She surprised herself when she reached the check stand. Those last few minutes in line had slipped by so quickly. When she was next-in-line she did something a little crazy—she stepped behind the lady with the cart loaded with children’s toys. She could see her wise teacher was exhausted and a little wobbly after standing for so long.

When her new friend thanked her, she said, “I can see you wondering why I have all these toys. Oh, they’re not for my grandchildren—I have none. They’re for the collection the Marines are taking up for homeless children. You see, that’s how I celebrate the birth of Jesus now that I’m alone. His coming was all about love and…well, I’m sure you understand.”

Amy realized that she wanted to do just that.

Photo: V. Slotto, 2014

Photo: V. Slotto, 2014

Keeping Sabbath

Image: oneyearbibleblog.com

Image: oneyearbibleblog.com

Most Sundays, I try to practice Sabbath—a tradition that was a strong factor in my growing up years, but that had waned with my work as a nurse…patients need care every day of the week. Most of us know and understand the concept of a day of rest, but our frenetic lifestyles tend to get in the way.

The concept of Sabbath crisscrosses most cultural, spiritual, religious and secular societies, even predating biblical times. The Babylonian Enuma Elish prescribed a day of repose. In the Genesis creation story, God rested after his six days of work and, I suppose it worked out well so that he added it to those tablets of stone he handed on to his people through Moses. Wicca, Islam. Buddhism, Cherokee teaching and others all caution humans to take a break, chill out, and rest.

Wisdom, it seems to me, embraces our need for refreshment, for replenishment of body, mind spirit and emotion, for regeneration and reflection.

For many of us, well, for me anyway, the need to be in control seems to take hold and it becomes oh-so-hard to let go of time, accept idleness and unproductivity and, perhaps, the feeling of uselessness. I suspect that there is a trust issue here. Can I really believe that God will take care of things in my absence? Can I believe that the work of creation on this particular day will go on without my amazing intervention?

So, how do I, Ms-Doing-Not-Being, make Sabbath?

• Meditation—a bit longer than my ordinary routine.

• Worship—with my Parish community.

• Journaling–and in the process really waking up to what is happening around me. I may write of all the wonderful sensory experiences that a pristine summer day offers—the finches’ songs, the brilliant orange of the male oriole at our feeder, the spicy scent of new-born flowers and the basil in the vegetable garden. I can pay attention to the play of light and shadow in the now-expansive boughs of the ash tree we planted almost twenty years ago and watch the hummingbirds fly back and forth sipping nectar from both flowers and feeders. I may feel the gentle kiss of a breeze and delight in my dogs’ warm bodies flanking me on either side. I will listen to David busy chopping spices in the kitchen.

• Spa Stuff. I can pamper myself, thanking my body for its seven decades of service and praise the many scars that it bears, a reminder of the life-threatening illness I have survived, for now.

• Creativity. Maybe some consider engaging in the creative process to be work. For me, I allowed the muse to come out and play, more by way of brainstorming than actualizing any project. Sabbath time allows ideas to gestate and gives clarity as to where to take them.

• And, yes, a final confession. I might do laundry. So, it’s not a perfect Sabbath, but for this woman who tends towards OCD, that’s probably not a bad thing. Besides, we need clean clothes!

Sabbath is not something that comes easily to many of us. I am aware that it doesn’t have to always be on Saturday or Sunday, or even occupy an entire twenty-four hours. How is life different if, each day, I remember to tuck in an hour or even minutes for the divine repose, sitting back and letting go?

Would you add, in comments, some ideas on how to keep Sabbath?

Photo: sroabji.com

Photo: sroabji.com

Prayer and the “Me-Factor”

Photo: achurchoflivinghope.com

Photo: achurchoflivinghope.com

I’ve been noticing something lately when praying or even reading scripture. It’s really hard to take self out of it. Even in psalms of praise and thanksgiving, it seems that there’s a little hitch--“Oh God, you are great and wonderful…and in the meantime, would you bash my enemies’ heads on the rocks.” (my paraphrase, which is a bit exaggerated.)

I like to start my daily quiet time with the prayer to the Holy Spirit that was the first post on this blog, I believe. But lately I’ve noticed it’s definitely a Gimme-Prayer: Give me stillness…give me calm…give me the joy of your forgiveness…give me faith and hope and love and on and on. Now, don’t get me wrong…these are not bad things, but still, it seems to be all about me and my Me-Motives.

But then I stopped to think. I drive my husband, David, a bit crazy because it is so darn hard for me to ask him to help me with something or to ask him do something for me. I want to be self-sufficient, independent. It’s pride. isn’t it?! Especially since if he doesn’t happen to notice or guess that I would like his help, I get so easily miffed.

And isn’t that how it is with love, with Love that is God? I have to believe that God is happy for us to come to him in need. Sure, he wants us to express our love, our praise, our thanksgiving–those more unselfish aspects of worship. But also waits for us to come to him for forgiveness, for help. (more on that in another post)

It’s a matter of balance, as are so many things in life. The psalmist had it right, after all–though I’m not so sure about bashing those heads on rocks.

Image: Howard Carter

Image: Howard Carter

Knock, Knock, Knockin’ at Heaven’s Door

 

Image: biblepic.com

Image: biblepic.com

This morning I awakened to the nagging sound of a monosyllabic tweet. A sparrow outside my window, no doubt, wanted to remind me that the bird feeder was almost empty. Now, I’m a great aficionado of birds–why else would I feed them? But this little guy irritated me to no end and it set my day off on a sour note.

It only got worse. My deaf, hyper little Jack Russell was in an extra-agitated mood when we took our early morning walk and everything, everyone who walked or rode by or flew overhead set her into a frenzy. To top it off, the landscapers descended on our complex and began unloading their lawn-mowers for their weekly grass maintenance.

After that, it was difficult to settle in to my prayer time. Even my Bible readings seemed to offer anything but comfort. And then God’s humor intervened. The folks next door (in an attached condo) began the demolition of a wall to expand an existing bedroom. The workers came on board with a steady pounding of a sledge-hammer.

Ironically, this was just the reminder I needed to hear this morning. Eric Clapton’s song slithered into my subconsciousness and I realized that it is in the little things that we can discover the Divine. We hunger for more and the only “more” that can fill us is our God. But beyond that, God hungers for us. He won’t leave us alone until we hear his knocking at the door of our hearts.

The nagging bird came back before my quiet time ended. The hammering persists several hours later. Other repetitive sounds keep drawing my attention–but now, instead of frustration, I can savor the reminder.

I don’t remember the words to Clapton’s song beyond the opening lines but it’s playing in my head none-the-less. Ah, sweet delight: here’s comes the lawn mower. Again.

 

Martha or Mary? Mary Moments

Image: goodsalt.com

Image: goodsalt.com

All my life I’ve fancied myself a “Mary”–a deep, contemplative spirit, lounging at the feet of Jesus–a sort-of mystic. But recently, a different sort of awareness has been edging me into reality.

These past two plus months have been incredibly busy. My husband was away, working on a major remodel of a place we go to in the winter to escape winter cold. During his absence, I assumed all the chores he does for us (I won’t elaborate). Oh, I knew what they were, but had no idea of the time he spent making our life better. And these don’t include the ones we share–for example, caring for the dogs. He was home for a few days, then we swapped places and I came down here to clean up the carnage and unpack myriads of boxes. In the midst of all this busyness, I completed a number of edits and finally published my second novel, The Sin of His Father, on CreateSpace…a fun, though time-intensive process.

Photo: sosaje.com

Photo: sosaje.com

Now I sit down at my laptop, look around me at a space that was utter chaos a few weeks ago, and know the joy and satisfaction of completion. I’m ready to return home (a two-day drive) and resume a routine that is so much more balanced. It scares me!

Now what do I do, how do I spend my time? I know that I need to do something to promote my book (a task I abhor) but aside from my blogs and poetry, I have no huge projects to distract me from the art of grace-filled living.

Yesterday, in my morning prayer time, my perusal of Luke brought me to the story of Martha and Mary (Lk. 10, 38-42)–you know the one. Mary, sitting at the Master’s feet, loving, while she left her sister Martha busting her tush preparing dinner for the Lord. A bit of resentment stoked Martha’s fires and she had her say about it.

Mary has chosen the better part. That was Jesus’ message. I wonder how Martha felt about that?

In this reading of an oh-so-familiar gospel, it dawned on me, after fooling myself for so many decades, that I am no Mary, I’m really a Martha. Sometimes reality comes crashing in on us, and this was one of those moments. Now I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile the myth with the reality.

Since reading that, although I’ve been busy, I’ve tried a bit harder to grasp at Mary Moments. One of the ways I’ve done that is to black out TV and radio completely. I had been listening to grim news and Teaching Company CD’s non-stop in the background, while working. What a great way that was to silence the Spirit!

The experience wasn’t easy. Quiet allows all those thoughts we lock up to escape and haunt us. Some of them–unkind thoughts, anger–need to be faced and dealt with using prayer and forgiveness…oh yeah, and self-acceptance.

As I face a two-day drive through the Mojave Desert and the breath-taking Eastern Sierra, I promise you, I will be listening to some CD’s. I really don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel. But, in the meantime, I do hope to create space for silence…those blessed Mary-Moments.

easternwalllink