A Sound Eye

The lamp of the body is the eye.
If your eye is Sound,
Your whole body will be filled with Light;
But if your eye is Bad,
Your whole body will be in Darkness.
And if the Light in you is Darkness,
How great will the Darkness be.
(Matthew 6:22-23, NAB)

Light and darkness.

Over and over, I return to Psalm 139:12 (“Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day”) and John 1:5 (“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”). I am comforted by these verses. Encouraged. And reminded that I am called to be a beacon of light.

I have also come to understand why I was traumatized by the results of the election. Yes, part of it was the way it acted as a trigger to a past event. But, part of it has to do with core values, with the lamp of my body, with the way I see things.

To me, money is a tool, no more and no less. I can use knitting needles and a yarn to make a sweater, or I can use money to buy a sweater; either way, I have a sweater. Because money has no value for me beyond its use — I don’t measure my worth by my income, I don’t feel a burning need to accumulate wealth, I don’t even understand the decisions of those who have a dollars and cents bottom line — greed is incomprehensible to me.

When the Lord gave the Israelites manna in the desert, he said to them, “Gather it that everyone has enough to eat” (Exodus 16:16) — everyone. In other words, take only what you need. In this world, people need different things. I, for example, need to have tools for writing and creative expression; only another artist would need paint, brushes and easel in the same way that I do. I’m so fearful of not having a journal with which to untangle my thoughts and feelings, I have a shelf of blank books, and pens sitting in jars and cups all over my apartment. I may, in fact, have more pens and pencils in one room than most people have in their entire houses. I need to write; I find my way to the truth by writing. But, I have no need for a huge flat-screen TV — and so I have a smaller second-hand set which I use to watch DVDs.

Taking only what you need isn’t about taking exactly what others have; it’s about knowing what you need and being satisfied with having that need fulfilled. The Israelites were also told not take more than they needed, but “some kept a part of it over until the following morning; it became wormy and rotten” (Exodus 16:20). I strongly suspect, since God does tend to be fairly consistent about some things, that’s what happens to those whose actions are motivated by greed. Inside, they become rotten.

(Please note: I said those whose ACTIONS ARE MOTIVATED BY GREED. I’m not talking about wealth; I’m talking about actions and motivations. Wealth is a gift, like other gifts, and can be used for the common good in ways too myriad to delineate here. Wealth, in and of itself, is entirely separate and different from actions that are motivated by greed.)

My suspicions are based on the way Jesus reiterated this idea in his ministry. He taught his disciples to pray for “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11); to trust in God’s providential care (Matthew 6:25-34). He cautioned them against becoming obsessed with accumulating wealth, saying, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matthew 6:21). I suspect that is why he said, after the rich young man went away sad, “it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23). I suspect Jesus was saying, in effect, wealth can become a god when your identity is tied to taking more than you need.

So what matters to me if money doesn’t? People matter; relationships matter; human dignity matters. I firmly believe that you should treat all people with respect whether you like them or not. Period. Non-negotiable.

Just as greed is beyond my comprehension, racism and bigotry and misogyny and all of those other attitudes and behaviors that deny the dignity of each human being are beyond my comprehension. For me, that is a darkness which must be resisted at all costs. For me, that is the face of evil. That is why the election results have been so traumatizing; for me, a great cloud of darkness has spread across the land.

Am I a prophet? Will time show that my fears were warranted? Or am I wearing the blinders of political bias?

Time will tell; time always tells the story and reveals the truth. As this story unfolds, I ask God for a sound eye, so that my body may be filled with light, and I ask for the grace to to be a beacon of light, living my core values regardless of what the future holds. As this story unfolds, I ask God for the grace to trust him not only with each day, but also with the big picture.

As this story unfold, I also ask for the grace to remember each and every day that God is good.

I Finally Understand

To date, I have found two things for which to thank Donald Trump:

  1. For the first time in years, some Republicans broke ranks during the election and engaged in something which could be interpreted as bi-partisan activity. Once upon a time, the Democrats held a position and the Republicans held a position, and the two sides got together to find a working compromise that was good for America. It’s been years since that’s happened, which has not been good for America. Strength comes from standing on common ground, not from polarizing issues.
  2. I finally understand why folks wield the Word of God like a weapon against those who hold positions contrary to their own.

I tend to think God speaks to each of us in a voice we can hear and understand. I also tend to take St. Paul quite literally when he writes (in Romans and I Corinthians) about the body having many parts. My bone-deep acceptance of this has been reinforced by personal experience: I have also seen the way folks with different skills and perspectives can contribute to a common good.

In addition, some of the finest people I know hold political opinions that are different than my own. I can’t say I understand their perspective, but I can say that knowing them, I trust they are voting for what they believe is best. Since — as I just said — I believe we contribute to the common good because of our differences, I trust their judgment.

However, in the past couple weeks, I’ve had to delete whole sections of blogs I’ve written. I have lifted verses from the gospels I love, and I have bludgeoned Trump supporters with them, laying out with logic that was irrefutable — to me — how they had transgressed the Word of God. And then, I remembered some of the folks I love who are good — truly good — church-going people who love God every bit as much as I do, and (in all likelihood) voted for Trump, and I have deleted those passages.

It shocks me and it shames me that I have resorted to a practice I abhor!

Jesus said quite clearly and irrevocably, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matt. 7:1-2, RSV). It’s a constant battle for me not to slip into the habits of my childhood home, where my dad’s unspoken rule of thumb seemed to be: “If you can’t belittle someone, don’t bother opening your mouth.” However, I fight that battle because I believe we should treat all people with respect whether we like them or not.

And yet, for the past couple weeks, I’ve been so overwhelmed by helplessness and grief that I didn’t have the energy to fight that battle. Even worse, I have been tempted to use something I love to injure others. I understand now how helpless and vulnerable those who bash others with the Word must feel. They think that if God is on their side, their opinions will matter more, their fears will be justified, and they will find a safe place on which to stand.

But, it really doesn’t work that way. God loves all of us, but he did not create us with cookie cutters. He created us to be unique and different, and that means we’re going to find ourselves encountering people and situations which are uncomfortable sometimes. We can only increase our comfort at these times by placing our trust in God; attacking others will only increase our discomfort. I know this, and I am grateful I’ve found enough peace in recent days to remember this, but I’m also grateful I’ve learned a lesson that will increase my compassion.

I reserve the right to disagree with those who actually believe Trump has something positive to offer our nation, and I reiterate my commitment to bear witness to his presidency. However, as we move  relentlessly toward what I suspect will be one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history, I will pray every day for the grace to be a beacon of light and only light. I will pray every day for the grace to write honestly, but not hatefully. I will pray every day for the grace to love all of my neighbors — all of them, not just those who agree with me.

And, I will pray for the grace to place my trust in God.

 

My Life Has Already Changed

I received a text message this weekend which I failed to acknowledge. I couldn’t decide whether the sender was incredibly stupid or simply insensitive. Had I been able to decide, I’m not sure I would have known what to say.

She thought that I would be amused by a meme about Hillary Clinton going to prison.

Really? Did she fail to realize that only a mysogynist Trump supporter would be amused by that? Did she fail to grasp the simple fact that I am not a Trump supporter, and unlike her, I stand in solidarity with other women so that we are not victimized by the kind of thinking which condones sexually assaulting women?

With the meme, she sent a quip (which I can’t quote verbatim because I deleted it to remove the temptation to use the sharp tongue I inherited from my dad). She wrote something to the effect that my life wouldn’t change as a result of the election. She either hasn’t checked the news since the election — or has managed to ignore the stories which don’t fit into her view of the world. My world has already changed.

Here are a few of the headlines from today alone:

  • Hate, harassment incidents spike since Trump election (CBS – credible news source)
  • Alt-Right Exults in Washington with a Salute of “Heil Victory” (New York Times – credible news source) [In case the sender of this weekend’s text message is as ignorant of history as she is of the news: the Nazis used the salute “Heil Hitler” and killed millions in gas chambers.]
  • The election is getting people uninvited to Thanksgiving (USA Today – credible news source)
  • Trump’s business empire raises concerns about foreign influence (Washington Post — credible news source)

This election wasn’t about business-as-usual politics. This election, more than ever before, was about values. Human decency vs. greed. Love vs. hate. Hope vs. fear.

Fortunately, I’ve read and watched “Lord of the Rings.” Fortunately, I have lived the passion of Christ more than once in my live. Fortunately, I know that darkness is not dark to the God who is love (Psalms 139:12). I will fast and I will pray for our nation, and the people of our nation, but I will not turn a blind eye.

I will not pretend that life has not changed. I will bear witness, and I will use my First Amendment rights over and over again to do so.

Technicolor Dream Shawl

In my wildest dreams, I would not have guessed  I knew so many people who would happily get in bed with the KKK. I would never have guessed I would find friends supporting someone who boasted about assaulting women.

I feel as though I have walked into a Salvador Dali painting or an episode of the “Twilight Zone.”

I don’t know if I will ever get past the denial stage of the overwhelming grief which consumes me. I don’t know if I want to. If the intensity of my grief is any indication, the anger unleashed were I to move beyond denial could be incredibly destructive. My tongue remembers how to cut to the bone; that’s part of the legacy of growing up with verbal abuse — I know how to wound with words.

Last night, as I continued binge-watching “Bones,” a delightful, good-always-triumphs-over-evil television series (which, sadly is ending just when we need its hopeful message most), I decided my next knitting project will be a technicolor dream shawl. I purchased some variegated yarn a while back to make slouch hats for a family member who was undergoing chemo, and have some yarn left. I realized I could use it to knit a crazy shawl as a quiet act of protest.

The shawl would remind me of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and the hope it gave me through one dark winter.

Theater had not been part of my life before I was assigned to review performances at the Black Hills Playhouse in South Dakota’s Custer State Park. I had attended a couple performances when I was young, in the pre-wireless microphone days, and couldn’t hear enough of the dialogue to enjoy them (one of the disadvantages of having a hearing disability).

Wireless mikes changed my experience, and amazing performances at the Playhouse enchanted me. I didn’t realize, though, until months later how deeply the psyche can be affected by theater.

One of the performances I saw (more than once) was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” In the months that followed, when my granddaughter was abused at daycare and was hospitalized as a result, when I found myself unable to find work after leaving a workplace due to bullying, when I watched people I loved deal with difficult situations, I found myself over and over humming songs from “Joseph” and finding comfort in those songs.

Remembering “Joseph” also helped me to remember the story of Joseph from the Bible (Genesis 37, 39-47). He was sold by his brothers! He was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned; he was forgotten by someone he helped to gain freedom. Year after year, he was pounded by adversity — but in the end, God lifted him up.

In the end. I must remember this is not the end. I must remember that dark is not dark (Psalm  139:12) to  the God who is love. I must remember that all the dark times in history have passed and this will, too.

To help me remember, I will knit, and to help me remember, I will wrap my shawl around me like hope. To help me remember — because remembrance is all some of us will have in the coming days. Remembrance and faith in a God who is love.

Manna in the Desert

This is your brain.

This is your brain on drugs.

[Sizzling sound as an egg gets fried.]

That commercial — which I seem to recall watching while I was growing up — prevented me from using drugs — no matter how bad life got. And it got pretty bad.

I was an appalling maladapted child. I strongly suspect that had Asperger’s syndrome been around back then, someone would have attached the diagnosis to me. I didn’t fit; I didn’t understand the social dynamics of my peer group, and as a result had few friends.

My home life didn’t help, but that’s a story for another time. Mom’s death, when I was a senior in high school, was more or less the coup de grace of any hope I might have had of anything resembling a normal life — though I didn’t know it at the time. Only with 20/20 hindsight can I see how grief, poor parenting, and the demon that inhabited my life, preventing me from connecting in meaningful ways with others, worked together, causing me to stumble and to fall over and over.

I struggled to get through college. Failed in my attempts to find a life partner, a companion for the journey. Lost job after job. But over and over, I picked myself up. Over and over, I put one foot in front of the other. Through it all, I comforted myself with the knowledge that I am an intelligent, creative woman.

I knew I was intelligent because following one of my suicide attempts — there were two — a battery of tests was administered. I learned that my IQ was in the 136-142 range, not freaky smart, but above average. And, I learned that it’s fairly common for bright people to be socially inept. I found comfort in that, and made peace with my inability to connect with others. 

I knew I was creative because (a) something in me is driven to create beauty, and (b) I am a published poet and my paintings have been exhibited in public venues.

Because both intelligence and creativity are expressions of mental activity, I have — for the most part — protected my mind, my brain. No drugs and, apart from a couple self-destructive periods in my life, little alcohol. I believed that as long as I could think, I would be OK, because I could find a way to move forward regardless of what happened to me.

When you value the mind, you also value the way the mind works. You value higher level thinking skills and you hone them. You learn to see patterns and to draw conclusions from those patterns. You learn, as the saying goes, to see the writing on the wall.

What the writing on the wall tells me now fills me with grief — and anger. I can’t even pray — not in words, at least. But that precious mind of mine brings comfort, recalling passages of Scripture and lessons I have learned. Chief among them is this: manna in the desert. God provided the Israelites with food to eat one day at a time — he led them with a pillar of fire and fed them — one day at a time. 

That’s how I am going to get through the next four years — one day at a time. I have to turn away from the writing on the wall and turn my eyes toward God. Yes, there will be inordinate suffering — how can it be otherwise? — and the odds are that many of those who suffer won’t even realize they brought it on themselves, because they allowed themselves to be programmed with misinformation. 

But, I do not have to let the ugliness shape me. I can turn my eyes toward the God who is love, and I can allow his light to fill me. Filled with his light and his love, I can — one day at a time — find small, hopeful, life-giving ways to battle the darkness. I can trust that this darkness is not dark to him (cf. Psalm 139:12), and he will lead me — one day at a time.

Manna in the desert. One day at a time.

Manna in the desert.

I Hurt

This morning I sat down at my prayer desk, lit two candles in front of icons of Our Blessed Mother, opened my Sacred Space devotional, and read slowly and reflectively while breathing deeply.

We are all part of that cosmos that transcends space and time … I pray with compassion … I give thanks … The Kingdom of God is not coming in things that can be observed.

I breathe deeply in this place where I have experienced intimacy with God. I remember his love. I ask for nothing this morning. I just sit and breathe, but eventually I reach for the tool which will allow me to process what I am experiencing; I will write and in writing I will carve out a place upon which I can stand with dignity.

I begin with two words, two words I learned to say years ago when I read Wayne Muller’s book, Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood. In the first chapter he writes, “For just a moment, I imagine letting go of the ‘Why’ and just allow yourself to say, ‘I hurt.’ Nothing more, just repeat that phrase a few times slowly, ‘I hurt.'”

I hurt.

I was sexually molested at 12; my initiation into physical intimacy was rape by two men I did not know who entered the sanctity of my bedroom from a neighbor’s party and woke me because they wanted to “party” with me. I have battled with depression all my life, and have never been able to have a healthy relationship which involved physical intimacy, which means I have been painfully lonely for my entire adult life.

And this week, I watched our nation elect for president a man who boasted about assaulting women, which essentially gives every man carte blanche to assault women. I hurt.

I grew up in a predominantly white, primarily agricultural state during the Civil Rights movement. The only black person I had ever seen was on television, but I didn’t need personal experience to know what was written on my heart: ALL men and women are created equal. I have been grateful for eight short years that in my lifetime I had seen our nation take the giant step from segregation to full participation.

And this week, I watched our nation elect for president a man who is blatantly racist, a man whose intolerance is notorious, a man who reveals the heart of darkness which lies within the people of this nation, people who claim to be Christian and to worship the God who is love. I hurt.

I hurt.

I hurt.

I hurt.

And I am not alone. My employer is making trauma  counseling available, recognizing that many of us feel as though we have been injured by a catastrophic event. I feel as though I am watching one of my beloved daughters being gunned down or one of my precious grandchildren being run over by a train — helpless. I am helpless to stop the tragedy unfolding before my eyes.

And I feel homeless. I do not know this place, these people. The country I was taught to love no longer exists; Tuesday’s election has shown me this.

Sitting at prayer desk and writing has helped me to find a modicum of peace in the midst of this suffering. I find it in the Psalms, in words which remind me that this, too, will pass.

‭“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.” ‭(‭Psalm‬ ‭37:7-10‬, ‭NIV‬‬)

St. Jude & Lost Causes

Maybe it’s the answer, maybe it’s not. Only time will tell.

Time told me when St. Jude answered the last prayer request I carried to him. It’s not that he didn’t answer right away. He did, actually — over and over — but it wasn’t the answer I expected or wanted so I didn’t notice.

For some reason, I have always had trouble making life decisions. When I was younger, I came to understand that my parents unwittingly contributed to this by curtailing opportunities for decision-making when I was growing up. My mom crafted my wardrobe with her fashion sense. My dad chose the band instrument I would play. My mom discouraged my natural predilection for prayer and spiritual reading — which I found confusing because I thought we were a devout Catholic family. The examples could go on and on; suffice it to say that at the time in life when we should learn how to weigh options and choose, I learned only how to keep things which mattered hidden.

In time, I also came to realize that being alone in life didn’t really help either. Mom died while I was still in high school, and my relationship with my Dad was not such that I could go to him for guidance. After growing up in a home where the biggest decision I had been allowed to make was what time to get out of bed during the summer months, I was like a punctured balloon after leaving home — until eventually, as I approached 30, I found myself with two kids and a husband whose love of alcohol far exceeded his sense of responsibility for his family or his love for any of us.

Counseling stabilized my life — undoubtedly because God, who is good, led me to a gifted and loving counselor — but I was still alone and had accumulated a tremendous track record of poor decisions. The latter resulted in a lack of confidence in my ability to make good decisions. I kept trying, though. I kept putting one foot in front of the other — and enjoyed some success, but not the kind of stability that I desired. I wanted to belong some place. I wanted to be part of a community. I wanted to share my life with people who cared about me. 

That kind of desperate need for others made me especially sensitive to betrayal. We are all hurt when we are betrayed by people we trust. For me, that kind of experience was devastating, bone-shatteringly, heart-shatteringly, paralyzingly devastating. I got to the point that it was easier to suffer than to make a decision to change. That’s where I was when I first prayed to St. Jude. I wanted to win the lottery. I had reasoned that if money couldn’t alleviate my loneliness, it could at least alleviate my suffering a little. I had a new lottery fantasy every day (too many that involved revenge), and prayed diligently to St. Jude for several weeks.

I didn’t realize until months later that St. Jude had answered my prayer during that time. I won with nearly every drawing — sometimes $1 and sometimes $3, which of course isn’t what I had in mind. I wanted the jackpot! I wanted my dream house. I wanted to travel. I wanted … I wanted … I wanted. 

Eventually, I was nudged away from that place of suffering because I lost my job. God had begun working to answer another prayer, which wouldn’t come to fruition for a couple more years. However, that answer to prayer  led me to the place where I am now — working as a temp, which means I change jobs every few months. The temp position comes after being with a training program for 18 months, where I changed jobs every few months. I don’t like changing jobs every few months, so I started a novena to St. Jude, asking for a permanent job that payed a decent wage and where people liked me.

Over the weekend, I found myself remembering an invitation that was extended to me first in June 2002, and has been repeated at intervals since by various people I’ve met. Have you ever considered the possibility that God is calling you to the ministry? I have one dear, dear friend who told me she wouldn’t stop praying until I took off the blinders I was wearing. The blinders? My Catholic faith — women can be involved in a number of ministries in the Catholic Church, but the priesthood is still a good ole’ boys club.

This weekend, I found myself thinking about this from a different angle. I have long believed that God is bigger than any one denomination — and as much as I love Pope Francis and the Eucharist, the Catholic Church doesn’t nourish me these days. The sense of community that made worship such a grace in Custer, for example, is lacking in California. And I am tired of deacons who know less about our faith than I do pulling magisterial teaching authority rank on me. I almost told one — but didn’t — your prick does not give you more knowledge of the Church than I have.

God has a tendency to nudge me to explore new options through experiences of dissatisfaction such as these, so I’m thinking this is not so much a matter of the Catholic Church going off the rail someplace as it is a matter of me discovering I am on the wrong train. Time will tell. If God is leading, doors will open and I will be able to go to seminary. If not, well, way leads to way — God needed this dissatisfaction for another reason.

We’ll see. Time will tell.