21 Days

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By this midpoint of Lent, I hope you’re finding your Lenten journey has been fruitful!  It is amazing the things that can be revealed to us, as we sit quietly in the desert of our hearts.

I’ve had a bit of a startling realization myself this morning.  Although, to be honest it really shouldn’t be that startling, because it’s almost always the same realization, shown to me in a new way:  the realization that I have a real knack for getting in God’s way.

This morning’s realization came to me after finally writing out in my journal exactly what I’d hoped to accomplish when I began this blog last Lent.  And when I wrote out those memories of what I’d hoped to achieve, I had to face the reality of what was wrong now.

Here’s what I remember about my reasons for the launching of The Mystic Mom:

1.  To share with “the world” (which at that time consisted of my mom, my mother-in-law, and a few friends of mine–Hi, Faithful Readers!), how I “see” God working in my life all the time.  Since I felt that the “mud had been wiped from my eyes” after reading several books by and about mystics (in various faiths…not just Christianity) I wanted to share how the Being that I call God really is a very ordinary and real part of our everyday lives.

And that’s it!  That was the start and end of my list at that time for starting this blog.

But, here’s where I get in the way.  Because as soon as I hit that “publish” button for the first time, a whole new list of thoughts began to form.  You know, those sneaky little thoughts that you try not to even entertain, but somehow seep into your being and attach themselves to the other, simpler, intention?  Thoughts like:

  1. Maybe someone would tell me how much my writing has changed their life.
  2. Maybe that person will tell some other people and one of those people will be a publisher.
  3. Maybe that publisher will want me to write a book.
  4. Maybe I won’t have an idea for a book, and my one chance for ever writing one will be gone!
  5. On the other hand, maybe I will have an idea for a book and it will be published, but not sell.
  6. Or, maybe that book will be a New York Times best seller!
  7. Maybe I will become famous for that best seller.
  8. Maybe I will have to travel the country promoting my book.
  9. Maybe I’ll have to travel the world!
  10. Who is going to watch my children while I’m traveling the world?
  11. Will my husband be jealous that I’m now traveling the world and the kids are more his responsibility than ever?
  12. Will our marriage survive this jealousy?
  13. What will we do with all the money, too?  Will we give it to charity, or hoard it for ourselves and become all focused on riches and wealth and forget all about God?
  14.  OK, Reality check.  The book will never get written.  The world doesn’t need another book.  Especially a book by me.
  15.  I’ll just blog sometimes.  For fun.
  16. Or , when I have something really important to say.   And that I know is coming from God.
  17. And also if I have the time to blog. If I don’t have the time that’s OK, too.  God will surely understand that.  I mean, he blessed me with motherhood three times over.  Surely he knows how busy I am!
  18. God probably doesn’t really need me to say anything anyway.  He’s got a whole slew of angels to deliver his messages.
  19. Plus, there are lots of better messengers than me.  More gifted.  More talented.  Just…better.
  20.  Why am I doing this again?

Do you see what happened there?  Over the course of the past year, I’ve drifted away from my original intention of taking my enthusiasm for understanding God through mysticism to “the world” and convinced myself that I should fear failure, and success, and just about everything in between.  So the posts have dwindled, the keyboard was broken, and The Mystic Mom was silenced.

And in that silence, God was able to be heard.

So this morning, when I  asked God to walk me through this whole process again and show me what it is HE intended (if anything) for me on this whole blogging journey, he very conveniently pointed out how far I’d strayed from my original intention.

Then he very conveniently also pointed out the one thing I’d promised to “give up” this Lent…my excuses.

And I know from experience, that excuses can only be extinguished with actions.  If I begin to act, then the excuses disappear.  This type of action is called discipline (from the word disciple), and it takes a lot of effort–especially in the beginning–to follow, and trust, and allow yourself to be transformed in the being God intended you to be.

For me, the act of discipline is, in most cases, the same thing as forming new habits.  I’ve heard it said that forming a habit takes only 21 days. I hope that’s true.  That’s why I’m announcing today that I will now be forming the habit of publishing a blog post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the end of Lent.  I will also tweet and post some other encouraging words on my Facebook page five days a week. 

It’s a start.  I don’t promise my posts will be good.  And I’ll probably surely fail the schedule at least a few times.  But, I promise I’ll get up again, when I do.   Also, in the beginning at least, I’ll probably be doing a lot of sharing of other people’s writings and words instead of my own.  But it’s the action of writing every day that I need in order to get rid of the excuses.

I learned a long time ago that what the Catholic church calls “sacraments” are really actions, not things.  They are actions of God for people.  We call them visible signs of invisible grace.    They are not “received” by us, so much as they are “celebrated” by us.  Because God is always everywhere, so is His grace ever-present.  Sacraments are the principal action through which Christ gives his Spirit to Christians and makes us a holy people.  We celebrate by affirming, honoring and praising our life in Christ through the sacraments.

With that reminder, I am now keenly aware that my writing…this blog, my journal, (a book?), whatever…is my sacrament.

My only real “job” here is to TAKE the experiences God gives me, BLESS them with a grateful heart, BREAK them into a lesson, and GIVE that lesson to others.

Why would I want to make an excuse for that?

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The Post I Didn’t Think I’d Have to Write

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This is the post that, two weeks ago, I really didn’t think I’d have to write.

I really thought our miracle dog was going to somehow rise above it all and provide me with some miraculous (and hopefully funny) stories to share with you about the tremendous odds he’d overcome to stay with us.

Instead, two weeks ago today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I had to take Baxter yet again to the vet.  He was in bad shape this time, having thrown up three times that morning between my getting up at 6:00 AM and the vet’s office opening at 8:00 AM.  I was able to get him in at 9:40 AM for another appointment, but he threw up again before we left.  He also barely moved.  He just laid on our bathroom floor, not complaining, not whining or whimpering, but looking miserable all the same.  And, most disturbing to me at that time, weird as it may sound, was the fact that he wasn’t trying to eat his vomit.  That’s when you know your dog is just not even able to be a dog.  I mean, come on, on their best days a normal dog would eat ANYONE’S vomit, not just their own!

Not wanting to alarm the kids (who were all home for the national holiday), but also wanting them to understand the severity of the situation at hand, I told them that they might want to take some time loving on Baxter and wishing him well before I took him to the vet, because I didn’t think things looked good.  They, not surprisingly, grew sad and anxious, and each of them quietly cried at the news.  “I could be wrong!”  I kept saying, perhaps more for my benefit than theirs, (because I was hoping like crazy I was).

“I want to go with you,” said the oldest.

“To the vet?”  I asked.  He nodded.  I sighed.  My real concern at that time was that Baxter’s stomach had somehow twisted in the night and he seemed to me as if he were suffering some of those symptoms.  I thought he was either going to need another surgery, or he was going to have to be put down.  I was hoping for the former, but bracing for the latter.  I wasn’t sure if the kids would really want to be there for that.  But then again, I thought, me leaving the house with their dog and coming back without him, wouldn’t exactly be a picnic for them either.  Plus, I could remain stronger if they stayed with me.

“OK,” I said.

“Me, too!”  piped in the middle one.

“And me!” said the youngest (which is a good thing, because if the other two were going, she wasn’t old enough to stay home by herself anyway, so I’m glad she was able to make the choice).

I let out a long slow, breath, praying for strength, courage and wisdom as we got ready to go.

Trying to keep the mood up, I asked Baxter in my usual peppy voice, “Wanna go for a walk?”  to which Baxter dutifully thumped his tail on the tile, but made no move to get up.  I showed him the leash.  He didn’t even stand.  I scooped him up (all 75 lbs.) and walked him down the stairs to the garage.  I noted to myself, that while I rarely carried him, he felt heavier than the few times I’d lifted him in the past.  Outside, he wouldn’t step into the van either.  Normally this was no problem whatsoever, since he was consistently of the mindset, Wherever you go, I go.  But this time he just stood there, looking helpless to step up.  I lifted him again.

He threw up a fifth time on the way to the vet.

At the vet’s office, Baxter and I had become such regulars that our arrival reminded me of when Norm walked into the bar on the old TV show, Cheers.  It was as if the whole team of workers looked up and, at the sight of the dog they couldn’t help but love, let out a warm sunshine chorus of “Hi, Baxter!,”  but I could see their faces turn to concern as they took him in this time.  They saw what I was seeing:  his eyes a bit distant and his gait a little “off.”

They ushered us into a room and when the doctor came in, he tried so hard to be positive.  He didn’t want to believe any more than the rest of us, I’m sure, that after all the hard work that had gone into “putting Humpty Dumpty back together again” he would already be falling apart.  Baxter was again laying on the floor and wouldn’t stand to greet anyone (which was just unheard of, because a person walking in the room meant a new crotch to sniff, which was the creme de la creme for Baxter).   The doctor and his staff looked Bax over asking me questions, checking his eyes, and mouth for signs of dehydration and shock, taking him temperature, etc.  Nobody knew for sure what was wrong at that point, but when the doctor pushed on Baxter’s abdomen it made a very disturbing sloshing sound.  Like he’d just poked a water bed.  And the doctor got real quiet.  “I think,” he said, “we need to do another x-ray and see what’s going on in there.”

So, the kids and I said our goodbyes to them and to Baxter, and in a last-minute flourish, I took a bottle of  holy water out of my pocket (my intuition led me to grab it before I left the house) and gave Baxter a blessing.

And I’m so glad they went with me… because that was the last time we saw him alive.

It turned out he had internal bleeding, and though they tried their best to repair and correct it, in the end he’d just lost too much blood and his heart gave out.

But, through our taking him to the vet together, I was able to assure the kids of one thing: that Baxter knew we would never leave him until we had to. And for a dog who suffered from severe separation anxiety, we all knew how much that meant to him.

As a family, we’ve spent the last two weeks grieving in our own way.  We’re making a scrapbook of Baxter and we have a paw print and a swatch of his hair to remember him by, among other things.  His cremains arrived last Wednesday, and we put them on the bottom shelf of the end table in the front office.  He spent most of his time on the floor in here at my feet anyway, so it seems fitting.

But we still struggle with the emptiness.

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The quiet.

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The space that is the *lack of* Baxter.

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But, as I continue to work through the many stages of grief (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and– eventually–acceptance, I’ve read), I’ve held on to one thing through it all:  the outpouring of kindness, understanding, support and love from those people who know and love us and who knew and loved Baxter.

He was a DOG, I keep thinking.  Not a PERSON–like a grandparent, or parent, or  (God forbid) a child.   But still, a part of our family all the same.  And so many of you know that that means a part of my heart that I didn’t even know was there until I had a dog, is now experiencing a loss. 

And I hold tight to your words and your kindness as time marches on.  Each day is a bit better, the quiet a bit more peaceful, the emptiness a bit more bearable, all because of YOU.

  • Thanks so much to the doctors and staff who did their best to save him.  Your efforts were heroic and your love and concern for Baxter were clearly visible.  We have no regrets entrusting him to your care.
  • Thanks so much to ALL the dog lovers whom I’ve come to know through Baxter, the trainers, the behaviorists, the kennel workers, the pet store staff, and my circle of friends–old and new–who have cried with me, sent a card or enote, left me a message or lent me their ear to bend for awhile with my stories, or lent me their shoulder to cry on (or both).
  • Thanks to my family for understanding that Baxter was so much more to me than “my first dog.”  He was a childhood dream realized, he was a reflection of “my own soul with fur,” my trusted spiritual advisor, and my loving and faithful confidant–even though, from time to time, even I would refer to him as “the damn dog.”
  • Special thanks to my brother for turning one of my favorite pictures of Baxter into the beautiful and loving memorial above.
  • And, finally, thanks to Agape Pet Services for their understanding of our loss, and their loving care of Baxter’s remains.  I am perhaps most grateful for the words they found in Scripture that I have always believed to be true, but have found most comforting all the same:

“…in His hand is the soul of every living thing…”  Job 12:10

Because, now, it is only through the power of His loving hand that my soul is able to know and feel Baxter still.

Doing the Impossible

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss, but that it is too low and we reach it.   Michelangelo

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I may be settling for less than my full potential.    When I’m feeling this way, I spend some time writing down some things that I would love to be able to say I’ve done, but that I really don’t think are within my grasp of doing before I die.

I’ve been doing this since I was in high school.  At that time, I was invited to a youth leadership conference at one of my home state’s three major universities.  I was 17 years old, and one of the motivational speakers at the conference challenged us to write 100 things that we would like to do before we died.  Today such lists have grown in popularity and have been dubbed “bucket lists,”  because they are things you’d like to do before you “kick the bucket.”  But back in 1990, this was the first time I’d heard of such a thing.  I was hooked!

I went home and made my list.

Now, crazy as it may sound, one of the things that I really wanted to do at the age of 17 was fly an airplane.  No doubt this was in large part due to  having just seen  The Navy’s astonishing and very impressive Blue Angels that summer at our local air show.  The thundering of the engines, the deafening roar of the jets, the formations and aerobatics were spectacular and made an impression on me.  So, it was a no- brainer, of course.   And we’d been told to put anything on there, no matter how crazy and ridiculous it sounded.  I had no desire, mind you to get a pilot’s license, but I also had no intention of just flying as a passenger either.  How will I ever be able to fly an airplane, with nothing more than an expectation?  I wondered.  I had a pretty good idea that  this would be one of those dreams I would probably eventually outgrow before I’d had a chance to do it, but I was willing to see what the world might offer me.

Fast forward a few months when I started dating a long-time friend (who is now my husband, I might add).  I was fascinated to learn one day that one of his 4 brothers  was a flight instructor at the time, at a nearby university.  I can’t even recall anymore how the rest of the story came to be…did my husband tell his brother I wanted to fly a plane?  Were we just bored one afternoon and decided to go flying?  The details of how we made a decision to fly around for the afternoon escape me now.   What I do remember is that we pulled into the small airfield where his brother worked and I thought my (future) husband and sister-in-law and I were all going to be passengers in the little four passenger Cessna, but as we climbed in, his brother said to me, “Did you want to be the pilot today?”

“WHAT??!?!?!  How is that even possible?” I asked, dumbfounded (and slightly giddy).

“This is an instructor plane,” he informed me. “We both have all the same instrument controls, so I can override any mistakes you might make,” he said.  “Except the brakes.  I don’t have brakes, ” he said.

Aren’t those kind of important? I thought, but I didn’t dare ask out loud.  Instead, before I could change my mind, blink, or most worrisome of all–wet myself –I was sitting in the pilot’s seat ready for takeoff.

“Clear prop!”  I bellowed out the window.  To which all three passengers on board with me laughed as there was no one around but maybe a stray cow or two.   Still…it was part of protocol on the checklist my brother-in-law had shown me .  (There was just no need to say it so LOUD, he informed me later.)  Next thing  I knew we were taxing down the runway, reading the gauges, pulling back the wheel and in the air!

Whew! We made it! Now what?  I wondered.  We circled around in the air for a half hour or so, taking in the views of the Mississippi River as it bent its way around the river town of Dubuque, Iowa.  As our air time was nearing its end, my brother-in-law radioed the tower for something called a  “touch-and-go.”  This meant, he informed me, that we would be touching down on the landing strip, accelerating, and taking off again.  As we touched down, I pulled back on the wheel, accelerated and before I knew it, we had left the ground again, all under the control my own two hands!  In case there was any doubt later in the minds of our two other passengers, my brother-in-law grinned at me and turned back to look at them with his hands in the air to indicate I had just landed and taken off in the airplane– all on my own!

Though we’d landed safely shortly after our “touch-and-go,” I didn’t come down off the proverbial “Cloud 9” for probably another week or two.  I could hardly believe that one of the FIRST things I’d been able to cross of my “bucket list” was one of the seemingly most impossible things!  This left me both thrilled and somewhat disappointed.  On the one hand, if I was able to cross this item off my list–an item that had seemed laughingly impossible–then what other seemingly impossible things might I be able to accomplish in my lifetime?  On the other hand, to have something so seemingly impossible come to fruition so easily made me wonder for a moment, did this mean I was going to die soon?  And, if so, it was disappointingly obvious that this single event, though thrilling, was hardly enough to leave me satisfied leaving this earth for an early grave.

Then I remembered something the presenter had told us when he challenged us to write the lists.  He said to never stop updating them.   So after a few days’ time, I wrote a new dream in it’s place:  Fly with the Blue Angels.

Of course, when I first wrote down these desires at the age of 17, God and His plans for me was not near as much a part of my daily life as it is now. Still, I can’t help but think now that God was sending me a very powerful message at that time, and His Spirit is reminding me of that message in the memory of it all: anything is possible. Don’t settle.

Now that I’m older, I still have the list.  I’ve realized an added benefit to it, too, as the years tick by: the more things I write down, the more I force myself to realize what I really want out of my life instead of what others may want me to do. Plus, I have the added benefit of an ongoing relationship with God now, which of course means that I now know with even greater faith and understanding that “all things are possible.” Mt 19:26

It’s been years since I wrote down that desire to fly with the Blue Angels, and it still sits untouched on my list. Now, as an almost 40-year-old mother of three with no connections to the military it seems all but impossible I’ll ever get that chance.  In fact, a few years ago, my husband worked with someone who had been a mechanic on an aircraft carrier for the F/A-18’s, (the same model as the Blue Angels)  and told him I had dreams of flying with the Blue Angels one day.  My husband then asked him what the “odds” were of me ever being able to fly with the Blue Angels.  His co-worker told him my chances were “pretty much impossible.”  My husband came home and shared this little insight with me.  “You may just want to cross that one off your list,” he said.

While I realize that he’s right–my chances really are almost impossible–the thought of taking that dream off the list makes me feel as though I’d be letting myself down.  What it stands for means so much more to me than actually getting the chance to do it.  That’s when I realized that  I hope to never stop coming up with things for my list because the more I see some of the seemingly impossible goals get reached, the more I stretch myself to go further.   I shook my head at my husband and flashed him a grin. “Nope.” I told him, “Not a chance. I’ve done impossible things before.   It’s staying on the list.”

And I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly the kind of “impossible” thinking God was hoping to spark within me all those years ago.

“Do Not Judge!” (Oh,But I Do…)

The older I get, the more I understand that any rule I am given out of concern for my own well-being, is worth taking a second look at.  Especially because such rules, at first glance, are ridiculously easy to understand, (i.e., go on green, stop on red), but many more, while just as easy to comprehend are far more difficult to carry out  (i.e., while I understand a speed limit of 55 mph means that 55 mph should be my maximum speed for the safety of myself and those around me, I very often go 60 mph because that is the speed that I deem will keep me “safe” from getting a speeding ticket).   Such rules, then, as we grow more confident and comfortable with the intention of them, quickly become something we dub to be “rules of thumb” rather than “hard and fast” rules (i.e., don’t drink and drive).

Many of the rules that Jesus gives us can begin the same way:   easy to understand, but difficult to follow.  Most recently, I came across this passage in my Bible study class on the Gospel of Matthew:  “Do not judge” (Mt 7:1).  And upon reading this, I was hit with two thoughts:  Yikes!  That sounds impossible!   and almost at the same time:   Thank goodness I don’t judge people as much as some people I know!  (Read that sentence again if you missed the irony of it).

The truth is that both of my reactions to this rule are just that:  reactions.  And reactions,  by their very nature, don’t take into account the larger picture of the reason for the rule.  Reactions don’t cast light on the myriad of ways in which we judge others, ourselves, and even God.   In fact, because I was so busy reacting, it wasn’t until I read the passage a second time that I was even able to comprehend the rest of the sentence–the part that  explains WHY we shouldn’t judge– “so that you may not be judged.” (Mt 7:1)

I was reminded then of how, years earlier, I’d made a Lenten promise to “give up” my sins of judgment and jealousy.  Now, I knew this would be a challenge, but I thought I could at least go a day or two before I would really be tested in the process of “giving them up.”  Much as He always does, though, God had other plans.

Ash Wednesday morning, (a.k.a. the FIRST DAY of Lent), I had a petty thought about a friend of mine:  I immediately “predicted” she would fail to “properly observe” the Holy Day by wiping off the ashes on her forehead after attending morning Mass.  (As Catholics, we are taught from a young age that doing so is a big “no-no”).  I’m embarrassed for having entertained this thought now on so many levels, but at the time, I didn’t see my “prediction” as a judgment at all.   I merely saw it as a “logical prediction of future behavior based on past behavior” and all but accepted it as “fact.”   Later that day, when I bumped into my friend,  I was shocked to see the ashes still on her forehead.   Shocked only because I’d been proven wrong.

After some introspection, (a.k.a. an inner tantrum-throwing fit whereby I attempted to vehemently defend my inexcusable judgment of my friend to God), I was able to be grateful for the gift of having been shown my fault.  If my friend had behaved as I’d expected, I would likely have been able to go the course of the entire day patting myself on the back for having successfully “given up” my sins by having made no judgments at all.  It was only in being proven wrong, that my eyes were opened to the fact that I’d judged my friend.

To this day, I think that being wrong about such a “prediction”  of my friend’s behavior on the first day of Lent was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  I shudder to think about how long it may have taken me to realize that I was judging someone else if my “prediction” had been “right.”

The Five Books That Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 4

I know.  I’m a big fat liar.

“Read about my top five books in the next five days,”  I bragged.  (As if it really is a habit of mine to post EVERY day.)

*sigh*

Well,  you can take the procrastination out of the girl, but you can’t take the girl out of the….

Eh. Never mind.  I’ll tell you another time.

For now– RIGHT now– I’d like to go ahead and reveal that book that’s been waiting at my #2 spot since last Thursday or so.  Because this one took the Word of God (a.k.a. Scripture, a.k.a the Bible) and just broke it WIDE OPEN for me.  And I do mean WIDE.  And OPEN.

Because after reading this book I FINALLY got what so many of you had long since understood:  that the words in the Bible are about God.  And me.  And God in me.  And you.  And God in you.  And God in you and me.  And you and me in God.

And not 2000+ years ago when he walked the earth as Jesus, but right now.  Here.  Today.  Everything still applies.  Especially when you do what the title of this book commands and enter the story

2.  Enter the Story: Biblical Metaphors for Our Lives by Fran Ferder

This book and what it holds within its pages is more difficult for me to write about than the rest.  Mostly, because it is the book that I feel is responsible for helping me to “see” Biblical moments when I live them.  Ferder brings so much of these stories to the here and now of our lives that all I feel I can do is encourage you to read it, too.

And let it change you.

Let your eyes open because of it.

For me, personally, what happened after reading this book is that I now have an awareness of these Biblical “moments of grace” as they are happening.  And it nearly takes my breath away.  And I’ll show why.

In this book I walked  each step with Mary as she traveled to Bethlehem for the birth of her child.  A child she had no part in creating (She was a virgin, after all).  A child she only felt the first flutterings of in her heart, opened herself to the possibility of giving birth to, and raising.  Simultaneously relishing and fearing the love, sweat and tears it would entail to raise it.  How daunting that God would ask her– HER– of all people, to do this.  Why her?  Why there?  Why then?  The answers to those questions were not hers to know.  It would require a great amount of trust on her part.  And a great amount of courage.  So much could go wrong.  But when “the angel of the Lord” appeared and made it undeniable that she was being asked to give birth to the child that would be the Word of God made flesh.  All she could do was say, “Yes.”

In my own life I walked these steps with Mary, but it looked like this:  I found myself near to bursting (you might even say “pregnant”) with a desire to write.  Write about God, about life, and about God in my life.  I was full of worry and doubt and fear, and I had no real hand in creating this desire or the ability to carry it out.  But I  knew what I had to do.  Or wanted to do.  Or both.  And then despite all my fears and doubts and worries, I was suddenly hit with a moment of peace.  A moment of calm.  Though I saw no angel, I was so calm that if one had appeared at that moment I swear it wouldn’t have unnerved me.  I would have just been like, “Hey, Gabriel, how’s it going?”  Because I knew.  I knew what Mary knew.  I knew that there was no room for fear because when it comes to matters of the heart like these,  you find that despite all “common sense,”  all “reason,” all the so-called facts, you still must say yes.   Even if the thing you love is certain to fall short of everyone’s expectations (including your own), or even die a slow, painful death, saying yes is still (and always) worth it.

So I looked to the heavens and I said YES right then and there.

It was the first day of Lent.

I put down Ferder’s book…and I gave birth to this blog.

The Five Books That Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 3

*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God.  I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1.   If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.

So here it is (a day late, with my apologies).  It’s a bit daunting finding the words to introduce the one book that more than any of the others on this list “washed the mud from my eyes.” (John 9:13-15)  So, for once in my life, I won’t even try.

Drumroll, please…

3.  The Naked Now:  Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr

To date, this book  is one of the most life-changing books I’ve read.

Did you hear me?  I said

THE.

MOST.

LIFE-CHANGING.

This book brought to light much of what I’d learned in the previously two mentioned books, but more importantly it finally gave me answers to the nagging thoughts and questions I still had after reading them.  In this book, once and for all, I became aware of the polarizing way in which our minds are shaped from a young age about right/wrong, left/right, either/or thinking.   And here, Fr. Rohr shared what he calls “nondualistic” or, more simply “both/and” thinking.  It is this type of mindset– this type of heartfelt contemplation– that is the mystical way of greeting the world.  It is also what I think Dr. Phil means when he asks his famous question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”

It truly was life-changing to suddenly realize how sticking to what we believe is “right” is a great way to stay sedentary in our thoughts and in life itself.   Happiness doesn’t come from being right all the time.   That kind of happiness– when we have to fight and grind and bully our way into changing someone else’s  thought processes so that we can celebrate our personal victories –is self-serving and short-lived.  Happiness comes from choosing happiness.  In everything.  Finding joy in pain.  Noticing our own shadows in the light.  Being present in each moment we are given.  Rohr states in his introduction to the book,

“The early, but learned pattern of dualistic thinking can only get us so far; so all religions at the more mature levels [my emphasis] have discovered another “software” for processing the really big questions, like death, love, infinity, suffering, and God.  Many of us call this access “contemplation.”  It is a nondualistic way of seeing the moment.  Originally, the word was simply “prayer.”

It is living in the naked now, the “sacrament of the present moment,” that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad or ugly, and how to let them transform us.  Words by themselves will invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is.

When you can be present you will know The Real Presence.  I promise you this is true.

And it is almost that simple.”

And to think this is only the introduction!

What happened for me in this book, was that almost from the beginning  (but most definitely by the end), a peace came to my heart about so many things I’d struggled with (specifically in regards to religion, but it’s applicable to everything) over the years.  Suddenly, I didn’t have to change my religion to be “right.”  And I didn’t have to insist that someone else change theirs to be “right” either.  Because no single one of us (or group of us) is “right.”   ALL OF US are “right” when we allow ourselves to be lifted to those more mature levels of religion where we are (again and again) transformed by God.   That’s when we’re free to move about within–and paradoxically beyond–the boundaries and paramenters of our various religions into the realm of  simply knowing God.   “Without this balance, religion invariably becomes arrogant, exclusionary, and even violent,” says Rohr.

It’s no wonder we, in our various religious traditions for countless centuries now, insist on these so-called “holy” wars.  We are so busy insisting to “the others” that they need to know and love God the same way we do, we seldom stop to hear what it is they know and think and feel about God.

This thinking about religion and transformation and mysticism brought to my mind an image.  I pictured people we all know who are surely examples of people living (or who lived) at the “more mature levels” of their respective religious traditions sitting around the same table:  Mother Teresa.  Gandhi.  The Dalai Lama.  Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Hold that image for a moment.

What do you see?

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them getting into fights or stomping off mad and insistent that one of their experiences of God/Love/Truth/Divinity was better than the others.  And they certainly didn’t rally their followers into starting a war.

And suddenly with that image, I knew WHO I was meant to be in this world, and HOW I was meant to be in this world.

I realized that like them, we’re all meant to share the same space together in a peaceful, relaxed, respectful and truly loving way–and I don’t mean loving in the sentimental way that we say in cards and poems with little hearts and rainbows.  I mean loving in its truest sense.   That purest of loves that exists in the quiet energy of our being.   That place where we are so content and secure with God-in-us, that the only thing we could actively will on another is a desire to see God-in-them and to allow it to look differently than we may expect.

After that, it seems, the rest is just details.

The Five Books That Have Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 2

*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God.  I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1.   If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.

From time to time people who’ve read my blog have asked me for suggestions about what books I’d recommend they read.  (I’m speaking about popular culture here, not Sacred texts like the Bible, Qur’an, Torah, etc.  I think that goes without saying, doesn’t it?)  This is always a tricky question to answer because everyone has a different journey experience, a different past, and different wants/needs for where they are going.

That being said, I can tell you which books really launched my awareness and shaped my thinking along the spiritual journey that is my life, as well as why and how they’ve shaped me:

4.  The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew — Three Women Search for Understanding  by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

If you’ve not heard about how this book came to be, that story is pretty interesting in and of itself.   The idea for it began with the intention of being a children’s book to help kids better understand the similarities between religions (the Abrahamic traditions, specifically) after the events of September 11, 2001.  But, when the woman who had the idea, Ranya Idliby, a Muslim, got together with the other two authors, a Christian and a Jew (hence the title), they quickly realized they had many of their own personal issues to face and overcome before they could write something to bring children together.   To my knowledge their children’s book never did get written.  They wrote this book instead.

This book had in it the beginnings of an answer for me to  a life-long troubling question.   I was born into what the Catholic Church of the 1960’s and 70’s (and still today, I believe) called  a “mixed marriage.”    This meant I was the product of a Catholic and a Protestant  (Catholic mother, Protestant father in my case).   Now, this certainly had some advantages, and my parents focused more on the beliefs they held in common rather than their differences, but still for much of my life I struggled with how to come to terms with the sometimes clashing differences in their two “religions.”

Having no real answers by the time I went off to college (still in Midwest Iowa), my world got a little bigger and I began to meet people from other cultures and truly from other religions– not just Christianity in its various denominations– and I began to really wonder, how do we all fit together?

Wanting to carry on the family tradition, I suppose, (well and also because he’s pretty great and I happened to fall in love with him), I entered into a “mixed marriage” of my own.  Though, by this time we both had seen a larger world and, like my parents, chose to focus on the beliefs we held in common rather than those that may divide us.   And that is a great recipe for success that still works for us today, by the way.  But I still wondered how do we all fit?  How can God be in “my” church and in “yours”…and also in the mosques and synagogues? 

I’m reluctant to admit that even after reading about Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) taking her trip to Italy, India and Indonesia, I still was troubled with thoughts of her having a Guru after being raised Christian.   Did you have to leave Christianity to find God? Would I have to leave the Church? Was God Christian? Was He/She NOT Christian? The thoughts were stifling. This book was the first time the door opened enough for me to get to see beyond the differences within our Christian denominations  into the meat of the differences between these three Abrahamic religions–Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

But more importantly, it showed me what these three religions had in common.

And suddenly, the “mixed” marriage I’d been born into, and the increasingly “mixed” world I’d continued to explore, suddenly seemed less “mixed” and more “blended.”

I’ll admit that it was surprising and a bit troubling to me initially that it was the Christian woman who found herself struggling the most with her faith as their “Faith Club” continued to meet and question each other.  It was the Muslim woman and the Jewish woman who grew deeper in their faiths from the beginning.  Eventually this became more understandable for me as I realized that growing up in a predominantly Christian culture, it is difficult to really face challenges of our faith– especially when we spend so much time arguing with our own Christian brethren.  In reality, I’ve come to understand that the greatest challenge is never to point out what is true in my faith and untrue in yours, but rather to ask, how does the Truth that I know reveal itself in the Truth that you know?

But now I’m just getting ahead of myself.

Yes, it was these three courageous women –a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew–and their willingness to share their story and their struggles, that began to help me see this.

But it really wasn’t until I read the book I share tomorrow that I was able to see how holding opposites together is a sure way to reveal the Absolute Truth of God.

Stay tuned!

What Dr. Hfuhruhurr and His Two Brains Taught Me

 

Years ago when I was a tween, my brother and I rented a video (yes, no DVD’s or Blu-ray back then) of a Steve Martin movie called The Man with Two Brains.  I don’t remember a whole lot of that movie except for one scene:  Steve Martin’s character, the laughably named Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, is wanting to marry a woman who is clearly (in everyone’s eyes, but his own) all wrong for him.  Not wanting to do something that he’ll later regret, he walks to the foyer in his mansion and looking to the sky he tosses the question up to God saying, “If I’m not meant to marry her, give me a sign, God!”   At that moment the ground begins to shake, the pictures on the wall begin to spin, Dr. Hfuhruhurr losses his balance and begins teetering around the room, the lights flicker off and on, and finally a booming voice from the heavens shouts, “NOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOO!”    All of this is as clear a sign as one could imagine from the viewer’s perspective.  But when the shaking stops, the lights stop flickering and the thunderous “NOOOOOO!” is quiet, Dr. Hfuhruhurr, now disheveled and sweating from the whole experience says this, “Just give me any sign, God.  ANY SIGN, and I’ll not marry her.”

It is laugh out loud funny to see someone miss such obvious “signs.”  What is also clear to the viewer is this:  we see what we want to see.  We spend a great deal of time and energy trying to get God to see our side of things.  To convince, persuade, entice, beg, even bribe Him to give us what we so desperately want at any given moment.  It’s so much harder to put aside what we want and in those moments try to see what God might see.  And because of our limited human nature, it can sometimes seem impossible.

But I think, like so many things in life, the prayers we say reveal more about who we are, than we realize.  Have you ever examined what it is you’re asking?  Just the other day I found myself saying, “But, God, you have NO IDEA how badly I want this…” and as if for the first time, I really heard what I was saying.    If I believed that, then why was I praying?  Did I really believe that?  That GOD –the God who I claim knows everything –has NO IDEA what I want?

Uhn uh.  Not the God I believe in.

So how is it that I could think otherwise?

I needed to find the Truth.  And the Truth (as He laid it on my heart) was this:  I was trying to get God to do what I wanted.  To be my winning lotto ticket in life.  To hand me the jackpot of whatever my heart/mind was desiring in that moment.  To show me the sign I wanted to see.

It was a humbling thought.

And like Dr. Hfuhruhurr, I now had a choice.  I could continue to ignore the signs, or…I could change my prayer.

It’s been nearly two decades since I saw that movie, but I’m finally learning something from that scene.   And so from this moment forward (or at least until I forget–because isn’t that a big part of the struggle, to remember forever what it is we’ve learned?) I have changed my prayer from, “Please show me/tell me, God,”  to one that seems more consistent with the God I claim to know and believe in, the God who already knows what is best for me, the One who very likely wants more for me than I can ever dream or imagine for myself.

I pray the only words I can think of that the faithful, trusting servant I claim I’m trying to be would say…

“Open my eyes, Lord.  Help me to see.”