Thursday, April 22, 2010

Giving it her all

Today I jogged 3.5 miles, and while I was running the loops at Pecan Park (my favorite place to jog), I noticed a woman with a walker. She and her husband very slowly got out of their truck and headed to the paved walking path. They were just getting on as I was running by. I know that frail older people probably worry about being jostled by people like me, and I tried to stay far out of her way, even as she tried to stay far out of mine.

As I continued running around, I noticed their progress. She made it maybe 1/6 of the way around the larger loop, moving quite slowly, and then she rested for a while. I saw them heading, slowly, back toward their truck. I had the wish to talk to them and say something encouraging. I have these urges and always hesitate to act out of self-consciousness, but I think that I should act when it is a good intention.

I thought about it throughout my next go-round and decided to stop when I caught up to them again. So I did, and told the lady she was brave to come out and try walking at Pecan Park. She beamed and told me a little of her story. She was told by a doctor a few years ago that she only had a few months left to live, that her body was shutting down. She said that somehow, it didn't happen, probably because of the prayers of many people. I agreed that prayer is very powerful. She said the doctors had never been able to figure out why she had such difficulty walking, and that she would get tired so easily. I told her to keep trying and introduced myself to her and her husband. Her name was Frances.

It occurred to me after they left that my effort was so puny in comparison to hers. She was giving everything she had, every ounce of her strength, whereas I was just thudding around the track, almost to pass the time. It reminded me of the passage where the poor widow offers a copper coin to the collection, a very small amount, and Jesus notices and remarks that this woman has given everything she had. I think it makes more sense if you don't think of it in terms of her money, but her life.(Widows, in those days, were supposed to be cared for by their family and the community.)

Talk about an inspiration! I was inspired by this woman walking so slowly with a walker to be diligent about running, and I felt really blessed that she shared some of herself with me. So many people are just waiting for someone to come along and be receptive, and listen to what they have to say.

I said I would pray for her.

A little later, Austin and I were arguing about "forcing" others to put their seatbelts on. (He's turning 16 this summer.) I said it's very simple. You tell them to buckle up, or you won't drive them anywhere. But he was being stubborn. I said, if you care about someone, you get them to buckle up. He asked if I cared about this kid who I drove to Sonic yesterday, who I thought at first was a friend of Austin's, but offered him a ride anyhow. So, pretty much a perfect stranger, in 10th grade like Austin. I said yes, I cared about him, and everyone else for that matter. Is there anyone you don't care about? I asked.

It came down to the fact that my kids were mortified, because I gave this strange kid a 2-minute ride (he accepted), when I had Andrew in the car but not Austin. Then I sort of lectured him: you know, of course, that you should never get in the car with a stranger -- at least call your parents to let them know what you are about to do! Then I told him to buckle up. The shame of it all. 

So, I should tell Austin to add a little humor when telling his friends to buckle up. If they haven't, he can look over at them and say, oh, I can see you obviously don't know the way I drive or you would buckle up!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stream of consciousness

Right now I have an empty house, which is an invitation to come here for a while.

Today was a gorgeous day! The weather was fine and I got to run and come here. It's not too hot to run in the afternoons yet. Today I feel like a stream or brook, winding through the natural world with gentle energy and sound.

I've got a peaceful, easy feeling, and I know you won't let me dooooooown .... 'cause I'm alllllll-ready standing, on the ground. Gotta get that song lyric in!

This summer, we are going to visit Washington, D.C. I can't wait! This is something I have dreamed about. There is no place in the country I would rather visit. I'm sure I will cry, often, seeing the magnificence of historic sites and feeling the aura of how many people have passed through with their hopes and dreams ... the mall, the monuments, the Vietnam memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the wonderful Smithsonian. We have requested tour tickets for the White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court.

I would love to see the Supreme Court, and all three places, of course. I love the intellectual rigor of legal arguments made by the justices. I would so enjoy seeing them in action. The most intelligent minds are unpredictable and malleable. That is how the justices should be. It's so sad that everything has become so ideological and that the justices' views on a few very narrow issues has such enormous influence on whether a Supreme Court nominee can be confirmed these days. Aah, treading into treacherous political waters here.

Speaking of politics, I reminded myself in a prior post that I wanted to talk about politicians in our country today. It's a time when the concept of a "statesman" seems so quaint and out of fashion. Everyone serving in the field seems to have been dishonored because of the popular (populist?) anti-government view that suddenly made a showing when President Obama was elected. All of a sudden, the deficit spending was an issue of great concern to many voters who were not satisfied with the tax cuts they had, and have, received.

The off-balance-sheet hundreds-of-billions wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that did not make our country more secure, did not provoke any kind of outrage like this. Off-balance-sheet meaning it was not even officially included in the national budget or deficit calculation! Estimates floating around the Web for the cost of both wars to date vary from $880 billion to well over a trillion dollars, easily a match for the total anticipated cost of the health-care law, which includes funding mechanisms to pay its cost that the wars do not.

Anyhow, get me started on politics and it is hard to shut me up. Politics and spirituality seem at odds with one another, somehow. I lose that peaceful feeling pretty fast when I start going on about politics.

I was listening to a podcast by Thich Nhat Hanh recorded in 2005 about his much-anticipated trip to his homeland of Vietnam after many years of living in exile. Someone asked what the significance of his trip might be, and he answered that he would leave that determination to the politicians. I assumed an ironic or sarcastic tone in his voice, just automatically. But as he continued speaking, it dawned on me that he has the same deep respect for well-intentioned politicians that he has for all humanity. It was hard for me to notice that because my cultural bias against politicians is so strong. I am immersed in a culture that has no respect for the vocation of public servant, that has lost that ideal of why people run for office. Maybe we've been here before. I think politicians have always had to be strong when people say such nasty things about them.

And here's another topic I need to talk about sometime, is the rather toxic environment that we are immersed in here in the good ole USA right now. I love my country deeply, but we are having a lot of issues right now. Our popular culture, our food and exercise habits, our political habits, our laziness, ignorance of world neediness and suffering, complete self-focus, addiction to TV and other electronic garbage, and our love of money -- all terrible things that do not bode well for our future as the greatest country in the world. That list is in no particular order, by the way. Oh, and our horrendous energy consumption per capita, something that other countries may emulate. The national debt (now approaching the levels it reached during WWII) needs to be on the list too.

I do believe that what we put into our body (food and exercise) determines how well we can live our lives -- how much energy we can bring to our thought processes and actions is directly determined by our wellness, and most Americans are unwell. We are suffering from a nationwide soul sickness, it seems.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Observing

I wasn't feeling too well Sunday at Disciple Bible class. Not contagious or anything -- likely caffeine withdrawal, lingering headache, general malaise and tiredness.

So I didn't feel up to my usual high level of participation, and this created an ideal condition for me to practice observing the class. This is an important part of my spiritual practice -- disconnecting from my judgmental self, or the self that feels the need to endlessly defend my beliefs and views and stick up for those without a voice. The self that completes other people's sentences and jumps ahead with a response.

I was trying hard just to be present in the room and truly see the other people as they were, with loving, nonjudgmental eyes. OK, so that's tough. Julie is still very much present in the room, with her preconceived ideas and dislikes. Before someone even completes a thought, I'm often way ahead of what I think they are going to say.

Luckily, people are endlessly surprising. The depth of mystery in a single human being is profound. I haven't learned to anticipate my own husband's thoughts and reactions. So the people at this table who I have spent three-plus hours a week with since about last September are mostly strangers, except in the ways they reveal themselves through their words and behavior. My mind does not recognize that, though, and tries relentlessly to label them.

I'm thinking of inviting them all over to my house for a post-Disciple party. This is sort of a motley crew of people with beliefs all along the political spectrum. As far as the religious spectrum, I guess everyone is fairly close except for me, maybe. True spiritual beliefs are so intensely personal, that I suspect people who call themselves "Christians" represent a wide spectrum of ideas. Some are in it for the salvation, others because they can't bear to live in a world without Jesus. I represent the latter view.

A result of this in-depth Bible study, at this point in my life, is that I am having more problems with certain aspects of the Bible. It is certainly a dappled thing, as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say. That's a generous way of saying it has all kinds of prejudices codified into it. Against women, slaves, non-Christians, homosexuals ...

I came to the realization that almost our entire Christian Bible was written by Jews. The Christian religion would not exist, and would not be a worldwide phenomenon, without the supreme passionate devotion of a number of Jews. We owe our entire religion to God's original "chosen people."

Which, by the way, I also have an enormous problem with. God is not in the business of preferring one group or ethnicity over another, surely??

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spirits and an encounter with one

I suppose it's only appropriate that a blog entitled "my spiritual journey" speak, some time, about spirits.

A song: "We - are - spirits - in the material world - are - spirits - in the material world....." The Police

I had two people ask me within a day of one another if I believed in the following: angels, demons, ghosts, spirits. (Not a multiple choice question.) I said: yes, yes, yes, yes. Oh, and haunted houses too. Jesus, God, and the Holy Ghost (or Spirit), and the great liberator, Buddha. So if Jesus saves us from our sins, Buddha saves us from ourselves.

So maybe I'm just another farout whacko. That is quite possible! I have always had an active imagination and a creative love for boundless possibilities and what-ifs. The older I get, the less I truly understand. For example, my conscious mind and what is revealed in the snippets of subconscious mind that I recall from dreams are two completely different perspectives, and the subconscious (unconscious) seems to bear little or no relation to daily life and rational understanding. It makes no sense. So if there is such a world of mystery inside of me, so much more for the world outside of me.

This is one reason spiritual practice is important to me. I believe that there is good and evil in the world, and in supernatural forces. To me, what is unseen may be far more important than the evidence of our senses alone can tell us. I wish to practice and strengthen my spiritual side, much as I strengthen my body through exercise, to be able to have a deeper spiritual life and walk -- but also to help myself and others overcome, or learn to deal with, the evil that is so active in the world. To me, this is the supremely important path of life. Create more positive energy, and embrace and absorb the negative. It takes incredible strength of spirit to encompass the enormous negativity that swirls around from events and people's actions. It is possible:
"For the light has shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome ('comprehend') it." (From John 1)

I know "evil" itself is a controversial word. I acknowledge that it may not be strictly the exactly correct word to use. But it's useful for me. One of the best teachers I have had on human evil has been Scott Peck, who wrote "People of the Lie" and also another book on exorcism. He is a psychiatrist who came to understand, through the years of his practice, that some of what he experienced with patients was far beyond any mere diagnosis of mental illness -- that there were, in his view, outside forces at work influencing some of his patients. He said that goodness has a terrible time recognizing evil: it is tone-deaf to it. So human evil often seems just confusing, then disturbing. The confusion makes it harder to marshall a sensible response; it diffuses the effort of the person reacting to it.

Anyhow, I digress. Story of my blog life! Bottom line, I believe in good and evil spirits. I don't think it is hard to steer clear of evil spirits. To me, they lack power of their own, which is why they seek human hosts. They require a weakness or invitation to approach, and they feed on negative energy. Hatred, dissension, greed, etc. Unfortunately, there is lots of that around. It requires a simple heartfelt prayer and a conscious invoking of the good, God, to keep them away.

I had a fascinating conversation with someone who is a close and beloved friend, about a spiritual encounter she had recently at a women's spiritual retreat. This encounter, when I recall it, makes my hair stand on end. It is definitely supernatural, and neither of us could decide what type of encounter it was, or its purpose. She's not sure if she wants to make contact again.

She was sleeping in her room at the conference center. It had four beds, but she was alone in the room because the conference was not full enough to require people to share rooms with strangers. She got up in the middle of the night, went to the bathroom, and added several layers of clothing because the temperature had fallen to the mid-50s. Then she returned to bed.

As she was mostly asleep, she became aware of a presence in the room moving around, and her rational mind explained it as another person who had arrived really late in her room and was preparing for bed. Then she felt a couple of light, cat-like pounces on her bed. She was still asleep, and thought groggily, how strange that there is a cat in this room with me. She felt the creature lightly turn against her legs. (She has always liked cats.)

Then came the part that brought her wide awake and terrified: She distinctly heard a soft, sing-song feminine voice say her name out loud, one syllable at a time, in a rather windy or breathless way. She realized the room was pitch-black and none of the sounds or cat sensations made sense to her now-awake mind.

She turned on the lights and looked around. The room was empty, the doors locked. She got out her journal and began to write. Were her hands trembling? Quite possibly.

She says that a few days before this happened, she had been thinking rather casually that she felt she was ready for a spiritual guide in her life. I was all prepared to encourage her and to say, I actually have a friend who hired a spiritual guide and pays to get that help!

But she didn't mean a Human spiritual guide. She meant, well, a Spirit spiritual guide. Hairs standing on end, again. So she had offered an invitation, of sorts, which she hurriedly withdrew that evening. That was enough of that stuff. But now, she's curious again. What did the spirit want to tell her?

I am fascinated with the many accounts in the Bible of human encounters with the divine -- either God or one of his/her messengers, angels. In nearly every case, the initial human reaction is the same. Terror, sheer terror. The certainty that life is about to end. Occasionally, someone reacts differently. Jacob wrestled the presence and demanded its blessing. He had a lot of chutzpah! For his arrogance, he received a permanent hip injury as well as a blessing.

Since I, personally, associate light so strongly with goodness and love, I personally would not want a spiritual encounter to take place in the darkness, ever. Why am I writing about all this at night, when my family is away? Ah, they'll be back soon enough.

If I ever meet a spirit, I want it to shine brilliantly. I want to have to close my eyes, shield them from the dazzling brightness. Not that I feel prepared to meet an angel, or God, that directly, face to face.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Notes

I watched "The Buddha" on PBS last Wednesday and was fascinated. The thing I found the most interesting was that at the end of his life, the Buddha died. His followers were around him, grieving, but he was so happy. He finally had achieved enlightenment, and as a result, he died. That was it. No more reincarnation, recycling. I guess this is what the word "samsara" refers to, is being caught in cyclic existence -- sort of being stuck, not being able to transcend existence.

So the Eastern idea of death seems to be rather opposite the Western view. In the Eastern view, apparently for Buddhists, their greatest desire is to simply die at the end of their life, never to exist in this world again.

I ran a 5K in perfect weather yesterday morning. For the first time, I felt like I was holding back in the first half of the race. I was able to sprint at the end, which I usually do anyhow. I enjoy that ending kick. I did my fastest time yet, 31:02. (I know, that's slow by the standard of most runners, but I'm thrilled about it.) I was sixth out of the 11 runners in my age class. Next year, I'll be in a different age grouping and will be the youngest instead of the oldest! Something to look forward to, kind of. Another exciting thing about yesterday's race was that I beat a ROTC team that was all jogging together.

So, these are the things I greatly desire: exercise. writing. learning. growing spiritually. I also really enjoy eating, sleeping, bathing, certain other indulgences. The Dalai Lama mentioned that desire is an essential part of life -- it's a matter of what you desire, taking the right path with your desires. He said, to desire to become like Buddha is a right desire. (Of course.)

That's good, because I do wonder sometimes if I'd have to give up my passionate nature to be a Buddhist. That's something I am unwilling to part with, is that side of me that cares so very much. What other people describe as my being so "sensitive," that double-edged sword of a word. The passionate nature aches with pain, or with joy. I am beginning to see that passion, properly channeled, can lead to greater understanding, love, and compassion, and enormous spiritual growth.

Good night! Peace be with you.

Peace be with you.

Pastor Janet pointed out today, these were the first words Jesus said upon appearing to his disciples after he rose, and he said it twice. So we could not possibly miss the message. And somehow, we still did!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The importance of the world

We had a lovely Easter today. Gorgeous weather, if a bit warm. Good church fellowship and all you could eat pancakes. Then 7 people over for Easter dinner, which was delicious and not too hard to make. Afterwards, we had the quiet older-adult room, populated by my dad and his wife, Dwaine's sister, and Dwaine (when he wasn't cleaning up). Then there was the young-adult/youth room, where Rock Band was blaring and there was lots of rollicking laughter. I hung out in there quite a bit.

Andrew had one of his random moments tonight where he was asking me a million questions and was completely receptive to hearing the answers, so I tried to talk very quickly before the moment passed. He first asked if there was any running water in Darfur; I explained that was a region of Sudan, so then he asked the same question of Sudan. I said, probably, in the presidential palace or lair of the dictator there. (Revealing my ignorance) He asked about the dictatorship in Sudan, how the elections could be rigged, and why the U.S. didn't go overthrow the dictator. I tried to explain that it would take some work, and effort, and we couldn't just snap our fingers and then leave. And that the U.S. has a hard time doing that without some other compelling interest besides just a brutal dictatorship. (Look at Iraq and Afghanistan.) I didn't tell him this, but when has this country ever acted with truly altruistic motives toward any other country? The Marshall Plan, rebuilding Europe, rah-rah-rah, but that was in our economic and military interest to have stable governments with workable economies. So, if there were a way to spin Sudan to make it in our self-interest to go there, we would.

Then he asked about Afghanistan -- why we went there, why Obama is keeping us there, why some people are angry with Obama for not withdrawing. So I answered as well as I could with my limited knowledge. I said that there are remote, mountainous areas of Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which border each other, where there is essentially lawlessness and tribal groups control different areas, and that is a prime location for Osama bin Laden to hide out. We talked about al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

These are the times I wish I knew more history, because my kids really do look to me and Dwaine and our knowledge. These are not things we typically discuss over dinner. We're fat, happy Americans, and why talk about all those problems in the rest of the world?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The book of the Bible I stand on

Is 1 Corinthians 13. I'd like to type it all out here to have its exceeding grace on my blog spot. But I thought, instead, I would invite you to read it sometime yourself. Maybe the words are already familiar to you, maybe not. To me, this is the essence of the Bible. Obviously, it's not that way for everyone.

Heaven on earth, today, was driving with Austin while taking the first sip of green tea latte, just enjoying a good conversation and the day, after a refreshing jog this morning. Jogging, for me, is like taking a shower on the inside. I just feel so clean and refreshed afterwards.

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