Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Many of you have followed the almost year and a half saga of my cousin J. and his wife (also J.--we'll call her JM!) in their attempt to get custody of J.'s two children from a previous relationship. They finally heard from the judge late this afternoon. Ex-girlfriend T. finally had to get her criminal assault charges (she beat up the next ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend) finished out as she broke her plea bargain agreement. She was given drug court but several very stiff challenges in her drug court sentence that will be difficult for her to accomplish. (Don't get me wrong--for the sake of the kids I hope and pray she can do them--but knowing her history, I would not bet the farm on it.)

The two J's can move the kids to the Kirksville school system Nov. 6 (they presently attend school in an adjoining county).

I am sitting by my fire near my chiminea, just feeling grateful--and scared.

We will no longer be able to blame T. for the children's bad behavior. It will be the two J's responsibility. JM has had her hands full with the oldest child, V.--V. does not choose to see JM as a "parental figure." (Hell, she doesn't see ME as any sort of a parental figure--she told me once "since I have no children I have no right to tell her what to do." We had a little "come to Jesus" meeting over that, and I do believe she has at least figured out I don't CARE what she thinks, it will happen when I am in charge of her! heh heh...)

It is apparent that V. and Z. will need some serious counseling. There are school issues and anger issues and acting out issues and all sorts of issues. J. and JM are just starting out as homeowners, and making a family of their own. They have a two year old already, and now they will have a ten year old and a six year old! Part of how I have been expressing my support has been...well...financially. That will probably not be ending for a while. They are good kids and never ask for more than they need, and are great at doing things for me involving errands and repairs and stuff, so that is good enough for me.

But that stuff is for tomorrow. Tonight, I'm just going to be grateful!

Well, I can't help but think about a "marriage for all" ballot issue in California without thinking about a classic but now horribly politically incorrect "Archie Bunkerism." When Gloria and Meathead were going to move to California, Archie snorted, "California. The land of fruits and nuts--where every fruit is a little bit nutty, and every nut is a little bit fruity!"

I have to wonder, though, in this day and age, "Who's the fruits and who's the nuts?" The "nuts" to me, seem to be the "preserve the sanctity of marriage at all cost" crowd. They certainly like to wave the Bible around, open to certain spots in Leviticus and Paul's letters. I find that interesting since most of us eat shrimp or wear cotton-poly blend, and most of us don't attend a mikveh or worry much about that unclean stuff. I haven't been invited to come over and stone a neighbor's disobedient child or anything like that lately either. So, considering Jesus himself never uttered a word about homosexuality (it appears he was too busy talking about the poor and whatnot), I just don't see why people are fussing over committed couples wanting to make it "official."

For that matter, the part of me with the Libertarian overtones says, "Why should the government be in the marriage business anyway? Marriage is a sacrament. Government should not be in the sacrament business. Government should be in the inheritance business. The government has a right to tax, and in that sense it has a right to insist on a way to determine our legal heirs, determine how many family members live in your house, how many are dependents, etc. They have a right to insist on legal couplings.

The problem is, we have blurred the meaning of the word "marriage" by having both a secular and a religious meaning to it. I think if a church doesn't want to claim certain groups can't marry based on their interpretation of the Bible, ok, fine. But insofar as cohabitation and legal rights goes, I think any two people who live in the same house for 7 years are at least the equivalent of "married" and I can't believe in a million years they don't have some joint property.

To me, letting same sex couples marry is just a non-issue in terms of how it affects me. It doesn't make me any less straight, it doesn't threaten any straight person's marriage (although maybe Madonna will try that tack now? tee hee), and I can't believe any gay or lesbian couple can screw up childrearing any worse than some heterosexual couples have, so no biggie there. I just don't understand why "marriage traditionalists" seem so THREATENED by something that will not affect their personal rights not one little bit!

No on 8. Makes sense to me. You Californians do something about it, since I can't, living in Missouri and all...

Our church has a book discussion group, and I got the nerve to volunteer to be a book leader for the first time. As a person who has re-entered the world of spiritual awareness, I was struggling to find something other than "first person stories of a spiritual nature" (I like those kind of books, but there is a point I have to deal with MY story!) and books of a more general nature like Diana Butler Bass' "Christianity for the Rest of Us" (again, a good book, but we do a lot of books like that in our discussion group.)

Then, simply by happy non-accident, this book showed up in my recommendations. I thought, "Hmmmmm....ok...." (and the fact they had a used copy out there at 3.99 helped!) It's a little different book, designed for exploring your own spiritual path, based on the 16 Myers-Briggs Personality types. Basically, you go and take one of the many online Myers-Briggs tests out there (actually, most of them are a form of Jung personality test that uses the Myers-Briggs classifications) and discover which of the sixteen types is your dominant personality type, and which is your "shadow" type (the opposite of your dominant type.) Many of the tests will give you a rough percentage of what percent you are of each. Then you use the book to see what kinds of activities in worship, prayer, and study might be more your "inclination" and it gives activities to try and questions for reflection. It's also of some value to see what feeds your "shadow" type might see something a little "out of the box" that appeals to you!

I first read the book on my own and explored the activities. I found them very much on target for me. I am 55% ESTP (Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving) and 45% INFJ (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging). This 55-45 mix in itself was a big learning point for me. The extrovert in me generally does not lead me to things like contemplative prayer (can't sit still very long) or reflection. Yet in the past couple of years, two of my biggest spiritual rewards have been journaling (blogging) and spending time in my "sacred space in the yard"--things that feed the INFJ side of me. It brought me to the realization I was not feeding 45% of my spiritual self until recently! So, what brought me to those two activities?

What I discovered from the book, was that the spiritual path that is my dominant one, is most whole through physical experiences...that "sensing" and "perceiving" side of me. It is heavy in my need to touch, to feel, to taste, and eat as forms of worship, and that I can do those more contemplative things if I can have a physical place, an opportunity to feed my five senses, to do them. I have a hard time sitting in a quiet room being reflective and contemplative, but these acts become far easier for me if I am outside, in the wind, the sun, the dawn, the stars, the dark. It is why the Eucharist is important to me. The act of grabbing onto a bit of Christ and eating it is how I inwardly digest God.

Basically, the book validated what I had stumbled into on my own, and had given me both direction and affirmation for my spiritual path. So I decided it might be a very useful book for our book group, and I could see a different angle for doing the book, compared to past books.

The "angle" has more to do with "I could lead this book the same way I teach medical students"--less lecture, more lab, and more problem-solving activities. Some of our books in book group, if you had stumbled in, you would not even be sure if we were discussing the book! I wanted a way to keep the group more "focused on the book" and the angle I chose allowed people to "explore for themselves."

We usually have our book group on a weeknight. I decided off the bat to tie this one to our worship service, and have it right after the post-church coffee time. This move attracted a different set of groupies, which has been fun. It also attracted three of our new confirmands! Even more fun! The three new confirmands have brought a fun new twist to the book, because they are still new in exploring their spiritual paths in more ways than one. Having the "old guard" mixed in with the "new kids on the block" has been a blast!

I designed the sessions so everyone has "assignments"--one where they try one of the activities outlined in the book for "their" spiritual path, and one where they take different parts of our Eucharistic service and explore it according to their personality type. We then talk about our experiences as part of the next week's discussion. Again, this has been a hit. We are all learning a lot about each other by hearing each other talk about what appeals to them.

Anyway, if you are looking for a book for your own church book discussions, or want to try this one on your own, I highly recommend it!

...from our friend Counterlight...

I just have one thing to say, and a request...

My thing to say:

If this is the rapture, well, I'll just stay home, thank you.

My request:

I am now regretting more than ever my lost opportunity in 1982. In 1982, I was in a truck stop in Memphis, TN. I missed my chance to have the best piece of "bad religious art" I could ever have, because I am a cheap-ass.

I saw a truck stop painting (black velvet, of course) that could only be titled "The Ascension of Elvis." It had Elvis (young Elvis, of course, in a white outfit) climbing a golden stairway to heaven with musical notes trailing behind him and Jesus beckoning him at the top. On a cloud on the top left was his mother. On a cloud on the top right was Hank Williams.

The picture captivated me for its utter trailer court tackiness. But I saw the price tag, and it was $40 in 1982. Well, here's my offer....

Using the calculator from this site, $40.00 in 1982, if you followed the consumer price index, is worth $85.94 now. I have a 49th birthday coming up March 27, 2009. I would pay $85.94 for someone to paint me "The Ascension of Elvis." It doesn't even have to be on black velvet. I want to atone for my cheap behavior in failing to recognize the value of this bad religious art masterpiece. Help me!

Ok, my psalm, working backwards today, was Psalm 84. It's too easy to run with the "sparrow finding a home", "How happy are your dwelling places," etc. stuff. Something a little more obscure tripped my trigger was v. 4: “Happy are the people whose strength is in you! Whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way.”

I got to thinking of the whole concept of “Our life as a pilgrimage.” Well, the word “pilgrimage is “a journey to a sacred place.” Sometimes I think both a plus and a minus of Christianity is we don’t have a physical place that we should take a pilgrimage at least once in our life. I mean, we don’t have a Mecca or a Varanasi or we don’t have anything like the Passover greeting “Next year in Jerusalem” that implies one should get to Jerusalem at least once. It’s a minus in that there is no “ready made place” where one can seek fulfillment in a physical form of religious journey, a place where “all of the faith should go there someday” and force us to intersect with each other on this journey. It’s a plus in that the lack of such a place frees us to create no end of pilgrimages! So really, it cuts both ways.

I got to thinking how the journeys of pilgrims intersect and intertwine and become their own journeys in themselves, all under the “umbrella” of this bigger pilgrimage. For some reason the word "adventure" popped in my head. Despite the fact I am a terrible creature of habit, I do crave adventure now and then. I did a 50 mile wagon trip once out in Wyoming, driving a team of draft horses. I went to "horse cavalry school" one summer. I helped out this summer at Iowa City partially not just to "do good" but to also fulfill that sense of adventure that gnaws at me now and then.

Well, you know, a spiritual pilgrimage, whether it is of the "standard" type like a trip to Mecca, or one you create from your own brain, is a form of an adventure! I like this definition of “adventure” I found online: “A wild and exciting undertaking, usually involving risks.” Well, you can’t get much more “wild and exciting” than trying to connect with the center of God. Think of all the risks you have taken in your own psyche to go on your spiritual adventure. Look at how many psychological risks I have taken recently in my own "40 days with Joan Chittister" adventure. Look at how we expose our own fears to each other in our commenting on each other's blogs.

But my point is pilgrimage involves adventure, it involves risk. I think in the old days, the physical wear and tear of making a pilgrimage exposed us to a different part of our soul. Getting on a plane and flying to Varanasi to get in the water where the three rivers meet is not the same as walking there. Taking a junket sponsored by the local Islamic society to Mecca is not like leaving your house with no food and expecting to be fed along the way. We don’t get that jump start to empty our souls on pilgrimages the way we used to.

But I think each of us have to, if we're serious, realize that there needs to be some form of physical discomfort, some form of "doing without" for our souls to grow, not just mental discomfort. Take the suggestion of fasting for the Millenium Development Goals day on Sept. 25. I never fasted, never had a desire to fast, EVER. In fact, I thought fasting was for crazies and asthetics. But the more I read that stuff about the day of prayer and fasting for the sake of the "hunger" goal of the MDG, I just felt it was the right thing to do. Millions of people in the world go hungry at night as a habit. For me to not go hungry for one day, at this point, just seemed so...well...wussy. Selfish. Out of touch. My thoughts the day before were like the cartoon of the "little angel" and "little devil" sitting on my shoulder. What would fasting for one day mean, really, in terms of world hunger? Those hungry people won't be eating the food I've skipped. But what came through loud and clear to me from that little angel on my shoulder was, "You don't have a CLUE what being hungry really means. You haven't even scratched the surface. You need to understand this better."

I realize now I did not do the full experience, though. I fasted and went to work. Someday I need to take a day and do nothing but fast and pray...maybe a Fri night to Sat. night or Sat. night to Sun. night. I need to see what pops into my brain when I pray and am hungry. I just went to work and was hungry the day I did it! I did get in touch with the "being hungry" concept, but I did not get the opportunity to "go deep" with it.

None the less, it was my first foray into the world of fasting. Maybe the next time I read that a Biblical character fasted, I might at least get a little of it!

Sunday night I watched the 1923 silent version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and right now I'm watching the 1939 version with Charles Laughton as Quasimodo. Although I have seen both versions umpteen times, something new struck me Sunday and I am running with it tonight, also. It's the concept of the cathedral itself as a "character in the story."

Ok, most of you all know the basic parts of the story. Everyone loves Esmerelda, except of course there is that dislike of immigrants in Paris ("No Jews, no dogs, no gypsies"), and there is that problem that the archdeacon has the hots for her but there is a bit of a problem with that celibacy thing. Esmerelda sees best of all the courageous and true heart that beats beneath his grotesque frame. These are all "front stories". But I am becoming more attuned to the backstory of the significance of the cathedral itself.

In following both these movies, the cathedral of Notre Dame's role as "sanctuary" is incredibly important to the plot of the story. Its elaborate variety of passages, nooks and crannies of the bell tower, and the fact Quasimodo--the "deformed" one, knows the heart of this structure is an incredibly significant part of both these movies as you follow the action from location to location inside of the cathedral. Herein might lie the bigger spiritual question for all of us.

Part of what I'm starting to realize about my own spiritual journey is that all of us have our sense of "Quasimodo-ness" in our personal dark areas, our secret sins that never came to light, our deepest fears. Yet those qualities are exactly what gives us license to explore all the nooks and crannies of "the cathedral"--the heart of God--because it is the one place we feel safe. It is the place that empowers Quasimodo to approach Esmerelda and save her.

Our sanctuaries are not always easy to see as such. There may be dark corners and wet dank areas in them, but a place of respite none the less. But just as there is authenticity and goodness in Quasimodo, it resides in us, too!

A friend sent me this photo the other day; she was taking a walk, and saw this flower growing right out of a pile of gravel. It was a reminder to me, she said, how often that "soft and wonderful things can grow up in the midst of things that are ugly and hard." The photo got me to remembering yesterday that Advent is coming, yes, indeed, it most certainly is...

Something that really hits home with me as I get into the "season of waiting" is that one of the most beautiful things that ever happened in this world was that the savior of the world was flopped out in a barn, in straw and cow shit and dirt and blood, and at the time, nobody gave a rat’s ass about it except Mary and Joseph and maybe the innkeeper who was thinking, “Oh, hell, I hope that pregnant woman doesn’t pop that kid of theirs while they’re here.”

Our Wal-Mart already is getting ready to gear up for Christmas...the toy aisle is growing...the Halloween aisle is shrinking a little...our Kiwi liturgist of the blogosphere, Bosco Peters, has a great post on his blog about that little issue. It's worth a read.

The secular Christmas season (aka the dark side of Advent) is always a weird season for me. Not so much depressing as some folks experience (the "Blue Christmas" phenomenon) for me, just weird. It was never a very good season at my house growing up. For many years, I was quite the Grinch about it all. But about two years ago (as chronicled in this blog) I started at least making peace with the "darkness" of Advent. I am sensing I need to move one step past this for this year.

I think part of my preparation this season is to do a little more than just be comfortable with the dark of it, and start to see that "flower growing out of the gravel pile." I am suspecting that will be a healing experience for me. Stay tuned.

Hola, mi novia dulce Señorita Chompita Wiggletail of Padre Mickey fame! Like I told you, we had our animal blessing at church a little late. But here I iz wif our Padre Wallace at the blessing. I wuz not real happy in dat picture cuz he is 6 foot 7 and dat is a LOOOOOONG way up for a little black dog to be! We also remembered you, my sweet. Everyone at church waz rather entertained that I have a Panamanian girlfrien and dey asked me 'bout 'choo.

Dere were a lot of little white foo-foo dogs at the blessing. I thought about that tonite becuz Kirk was watching "Silence of da Wams" on TV and I think dat Pwecious in dat movie look a lot like Debby's dog Louie. Here are some of da white foo-foo dogs:

See what I mean? Dat Louie (he on da left), he look just like dat dog Pwecious. It make me want to say "It put da lotion on its skin or else it get da hose agin!"

Oh, and we think Boomie haz a cousin. Here is Boomie wif Miss Zera Ruth. Dey look like both of dem had a twaveling salesman for a daddy, you think? Dey sure both look a lot alike!

But we had a good time at the blessing. We all did a pwayer and den Padre Wallace told some story about his kitty he had years ago dat would sit and purr at his feet when he used to sit and do his centering pwayer. I thought, "Why sit on da floor, silly kitteh, when you coulda sat on his wap?" When Kirk sits and prays, I sitz on Kirk's wap and Boomie stares at us. Oh, well, kittehs don' make sense sometimes. Den we got blessed and den we did another pwayer and den we sang something, I think dey said it wuz da "Dogsology." Dat didn't make sense because dat would leave da kittehs out, but oh, well, ok-fine.

Our fren Wynne brought her kitteh in what looked like a kitteh twap to me. I thought, "Oh, boy! I could have some fun chasing dat kitteh, ' but dat kitteh jus hissed and yowled at me fum inside da kitteh twap. I thought, "Hmmm, dat kitteh is wather anti-soshul." But other than da anti-soshul kitteh, I thought it was a lot of fun. I slept in the van all da way home!

Anyway, Señorita Chompita Wiggletail, I wuz sorry you could not be dere when I became da Blessed Little Eddie. I missed you, sweet girlfren!

Your boyfren,
Little Eddie

We are having a pretty good fall colorfest this year in NE Missouri. I came home from work yesterday and all of a sudden I noticed my burning bush. It never disappoints me in the fall, and this fall is no exception! Since we are very much an "Oak-hickory" forest land up here, we have plenty of brownish-reds and yellows, but a little shy of orange and brilliant red in the natural surroundings. We often have to look for those colors in town in the things we've planted. There's a brilliant orange-red sugar maple next to the vicarage; I was telling the vicar I didn't know if his neighbor's tree would inspire him or distract him in his homily prep this weekend!

You all remember my wonderful new gold tooth a while back. Well, I finally got the bill. The tooth was 1088.00 and with incidental assorted associated dental hoo haa the total bill was $1550.00.


My insurance (ok, take a deep breath, say "thanks be to God" for having a job with bennies) paid the rather amusing amount of $666.00.

Ok, breathe... write the check....

But, please...if I drop dead, would someone please get their pocketknife out and pop my two gold crowns out, have them melted down, and donate the money to my church?

It’s a short one, Psalm 93, and one of the ones that is often a "Friday night Psalm" in the Jewish Sabbeth. Verse 2 hit me today, as I do my daily "work backwards through the Psalms" exercise. “He has made the whole world so sure that it cannot be moved.”

That’s an interesting verse in this time of UN-surety. I am thinking back between now and 2001. In 2001 my retirement portfolio lost 1/3 of its value but it bounced back over time. I have not even opened my statement from Sept. 30. I am not nearly as wound up about it as I was in 2001. Is it because I simply have more, or is it because I am just less wound up about it because I am starting to give up part of this? Or a little of both?

I admit, I am asking questions this morning and have no answers. Is something happening where I am starting to trust God’s ability to take care of God’s reign? Or is it that this meltdown is simply not touching me at this point?

I am not sure if I am “trusting” or just not affected. I really don’t want to test it. I don’t need an economic crisis.

What are the sureties of God’s world I see?

I know every summer, I will see Scorpio in the disappears about September as the horizon changes and about November I will notice that Orion has shown up.

I know barring catastrophe, my cottonwood tree, that is becoming barer and barer by the minute right now, and will soon become silent for the winter, will leaf out next spring and I will hear its friendly rustle again.

I know that soon the snow will come. I know next spring, one of my purple crocuses will pop out of the snow. I know the days will become shorter and then longer.

I would not know these things if I did not sit still in one place.

We make such a big deal of travel and adventure. Hell, I like travel and adventure! But I used to HAVE to have more of it than I need now. Now I am starting to like “the adventure of sitting still in one place and watching change and familiarity play out.”

I think back to when I used to run my grandfather’s route of coin operated machines in the early 1980's—pinballs, jukeboxes, video games, coin-operated pool tables. I think of how I rode those same routes every day, watch the seasons change along the same routes year after year. I loved both the wonder and the familiarity of it. I think sometimes about a friend of mine whose job puts her on the road several hours a day. I wonder if that same experience is there for her. When she calls me at work from the road, I’m half jealous. There I am behind a microscope and yes, I am doing important work that I love, but there are times at THAT moment, I remember the awe of being on the road every day, and the joy of it, even in a time when I wasn’t making shit for money and had trouble making ends meet. I was connecting with the surety of God’s world back then without even knowing it! That connection happened in those rather dull years after college and my first teaching job, which I left when my engagement blew up. I was substitute teaching school off and on, working for my grandfather, taking some graduate classes, not sure what I was going to do. Medical school hadn't really begun to be in the picture although I had started thinking about it and was studying for the MCATs to see if I could even do well enough on the MCAT's to apply.

My life back then was just sort of drifting from one relationship to another, working and struggling to make ends meet, mixed with low budget partying and a modest amount of emptiness, a lot of "what's in store for me in my 20's...none of this feels right," and a growing dissatisfaction with religion as presented by the church of my youth. I had NO clue at that point in time that there was a part of me that trusted the surety of God's reign. I thought enjoying the seasons and the colors was "something you did when you didn't have much else."

I think about the changes of the seasons and how they connect me with the surety of God’s world. This fall, I have been thinking when I sit outside, that I am starting to be “fall.” I am in the early fall of my own life. I probably didn’t appreciate the spring and summer as much as I should have. My spring and summer was all about “acquisition” and not stability. Will God give me back another spring and summer in the next world...or at least something as good or better that connects me back to it? All questions. No answers.

Ok, so it's not exactly the four questions at Pesach, but what the hell. But I guess it's time to tackle the four questions at the end of my 40 day journey with Joan Chittister!

1. How are you different?

Oh, I don't feel terribly "different" but I do feel a little more relaxed, maybe a little looser. I think forcing myself to put this on my blog rather than just keep it to myself made me a little more loosened up about "self-revealing." My blogfriends and I connect on a little different level than my real-life friends and they help me to feel more open. I realize you all did not always comment much but I knew the visits were there, by my live feed. I liked to think that y'all were mulling over the questions in your own heads!

2. What have you learned?

I have learned that some of this stuff is not as scary as I thought it was, and not as unique. A lot of times when you did comment, it was because of a shared feeling or experience. I learned that by being self-questioning and self-revealing that sometimes others will share and then it does not feel quite so alone or unique.

3. What have you experienced?

Oh, a lot of the "experience" I think, is yet to be determined. But I have certainly experienced a real feeling of having taken a journey, and a good one at that. I have a sense, though, that "the best is yet to be" in terms of what this journey is. I've experienced joy and fear, longing and apprehension, and, oddly enough, a sense of the reality of the sources of love in my life. These, however, are merely introductions, I believe, to bigger things!

4. In what ways has your faith and practice been transformed?

I feel a little more "empowered" by my faith although I think it will become more "cemented" later. Again, I sense there is a grounding that will occur as time goes on. The end of this trip is not "the end of the journey."

I have always had a lot of stamina with projects that require discipline and I am comforted in knowing this is true for spiritual discipline, too.

Finally, I thought about this in terms of church yesterday. Two things stuck out in my mind. When my buddy C. got confirmed, I could feel my own moment of confirmation just as if it was happening. Could I actually be "becoming part of my own Baptismal Covenant?"

The other thing that stuck out in my mind is something in the Bishop's sermon that was a big clarifier in what is otherwise a very weird parable (the wedding feast parable in Matthew 22). Everyone, he pointed out, gets stuck on the "casting out" part of that parable and ignores the two most important parts of it...namely, there is going to be a feast, and be sure and dress for the occasion!

I am realizing after this 40 day trip, I've spent a lot of energy convincing myself (wrongly) that I don't belong at the feast. Well, duh. No one does. But we got invited anyway. All we have to do is say "yes", show up, and dress for a wedding feast. What I just did for 40 days is "get dressed" in a way! I am just now realizing I was invited to this feast because the inviter wanted me there, not because he "had to!"

Hola, Señorita Chompita Wiggletail of Padre Mickey's fame! I haz a new haircut because I was getting too woolly. I will grow some more hairs before winter gets here. Kirk said I was looking more like a sheep than a dog....oh, and there is that little problem with the dingleberries but I will not go into that b/c you are a lady! Do you getz haircuts in Panama? I get to go to the dog barber. What is funny is the dog barber is now in a building where peoples used to get their hairs cut but the people hair cutters moved away and dog barbers moved in. Sometimes peoples come in, thinking they can get their hairs cut but they are suprised the dogs are getting their hairs cut! But when I gets my hairs cut, Kirk makes sure I still have nice manly whiskers and bushy eyebrows. Dat's cuz everyone tells me there was a Scottie in the woodpile somewhere, but I don't unnerstand that. I have only seen possums and stinky skunks in our woodpile.

Have you ever met any stinky skunks? I haf. It was really bad. I barked at the stinky skunk one time and it stinked on me. Kirk made me stay outside for a buncha days and I had to take bafs in yukky tomato juice and lemon juice and vinegar and all kinds of weird stuff. I hope you have never been stinked by a skunk, you are too bonita to haf da skunk stink on you.

Here I am trying out my soulful look for you. I haz a soulful look for you, Señorita Chompita Wiggletail, cuz I have not heard from you for a while. I know Padre was away and could not blog for you, and the lovely Mona had her busies just keeping your blog going. How have you been? Muy bien?Oh, dere is dat silly Boomie again. Boomer iz showing off his purple spots on his tongue. Hez trying to show you he is part Chow. I told him being Chow is not good because someone might mistake him for a dinner. He wants you to think da dog barber lowered his ears, but he is really just putting his ears down.

We are going to da animal blessing next Saturday. Kirk's church did not haf da animal blessing on da usual week because of a "scheduling pwoblem", whatever dat is. I'm just a little black dog, I don' no nuffin 'bout no schedules. Kirk is always afraid I am going to be embawassing because when people put their faces up in my face I like to lick them, but I was good last year.

My sweet Señorita Chompita Wiggletail, would you like me to get Kirk to bwing your picture to the animal blessing and have Fr. Wallace bless you too? I can do this for you if you like. I bet you get blessed all the time since you have Padre at your house, but maybe you would like someone else bless you for a change. Jus let me know.

Your boyfren,
Little Eddie

My "40 days with Joan Chittister" book has some "questions for the end of the journey". Today, I'm just going to post the questions and let the weekend take care of the answers. As with the end of a lot of trips, I think I need to just kick back and relax for a couple days first--just like when I go on vacation, it does me no good to come home Sunday night and go back to work Monday morning. In my real life "trips", I have learned that if I don't give myself that couple days down time before going back to work, often the value of the recreational aspects of the trip was negated. Right now I am feeling a little bit of the "weariness" of the trip being over, if you get my drift.

So, here are the questions. I am going to do church work day today, and watch one of my closest church friends get confirmed tomorrow at Trinity, and see what all that tells me before answering these!

1. How are you different?
2. What have you learned?
3. What have you experienced?
4. In what ways has your faith and practice been transformed?

I will do one tomorrow also b/c there is an epilogue set of questions at “journey’s end” but WOW! 40 days! OMG I really did it!

The last day focuses on “contemplating the goodness of life”. She says that contemplating goodness is the “ultimate sanity”--that it is “the crown of the spirit, the gateway of the heart through which all good comes and in which all things are welcome as the gifts of God.”

Reflection questions:

1. Write about how you understand your inner goodness.

I am just beginning to accept it, let alone understand it. It’s an interesting non-coincidence that I have been struggling with the possibility that I am not good at giving myself credit for my inner goodness and that God is far less hard on me than I am on myself. That’s a mistake, b/c it puts me in the arrogant position of “presuming I know more than God” and self-separates me from God. But to overcome that, I have to accept that God sees me as worthy and that somehow, I delight him. I have a tendency to figure “God is God, and I’m me, and there’s not a huge amount in common with us, and at best, we’re little exotic pets that entertain him.” But I am starting to realize that is a very small view. Could it be God really NEEDS us? Could it be that we are the part of his creation that makes HIM feel most whole? I am just getting the surface scratched on this one and have to explore that one more.

What I am starting to understand about my “inner goodness” is, well...if it were a LOLdog on the “I has a hot dog” website, it would have a smiling little terrier dog going, “Inner gudnezz—I haz it. Iz better’n hotdog.” I think I need to spend more time with my inner goodness, accept it, explore it, and see it as “real.” Right now I know I have it, but I’m not convinced in my mind it’s real. My gut says it’s real. My head says, “Uh, I dunno.” My hands say, “Let’s take it apart and see what it’s made of,” and my heart says, “Uh, I don’t think you can do that, inner goodness is not made of pieces and parts.” That’s where I am with it at the moment.

2. Consider the challenges and opportunities that prevent or encourage your ability to affirm your goodness and the goodness of creation.

The biggest challenge is that (as a friend reminded me) I have a habit of, when things seem to touch me too much, in the name of “self-protection” I reduce that “thing” to its smallest denominator and stomp on it to make it go away. I do that by belittling the “pop vernacular” version of something. I am going to have a hard time with that on my next project, my Advent project. Christmas is such as loaded season for me, full of scars, that some of how I deal with it is belittle the worldy aspects of it and “refuse to play.” I am going to have to address the season of Advent without wanting to tear up and stomp on “pop Christmas.”

That habit also gets in my own way in terms of seeing my own goodness. I can see the goodness in creation way more than my own. I can reduce myself down to the smallest denominator and stomp on me, too.

On the other hand, I can find myself participating in creation in an affirming way very easily. It is easy for me to take walks and see the goodness of creation, see clouds, sit in the dark and appreciate the new moon, the quarter moon, the full moon. I enjoy seeing the differences doing the “same thing” day after day, watching the seasons change, the pattern of stars in the sky change, etc.

I thought about this even in terms of the Eucharist. I’ve been told by my vicar that sometimes, when I am being acolyte, there are times my “presence” on the altar is stronger than others, and he has learned to equate that with the possibility that I’m struggling with something. That’s probably only half right. I think what happens is, when I struggle, or am a little “not quite right” I tend to throw myself into the physical details of my acolyte job, in an attempt to feel more “unobtrusive,” more “inclusive”, literally “to become it.” (Sort of like the reflection we did some days back on how in the evolution of prayer skills, we can “become a prayer.”) Wow, what if I could throw myself that deeply into it when I’m NOT struggling? That would mean I have reached a new contemplative place!

3. Contemplate the “sanity” of seeing goodness beneath the pain and suffering in life.

I think I have always been able to do that a little, and am understanding it better now. Out of all the “old skills I had that helped me survive the first half of life”, this is the one I am pretty sure I need to keep. Somehow, in my tumultuous growing up period, I learned to still see the good and learned to still turn towards the good. I realize that is God’s grace and I am thankful for that in a way I can barely describe. That skill is the undergirding of another of my good qualities—laughter and my off the wall sense of humor.

The only difference between then and now, is then I saw it as an “escape” and now I see it as one of the essentials that makes up the essence of who I am and what God breathed into my soul to make me “me”!

Today’s readings discuss “asking questions.” Asking the “hard questions” is an instrument of growth and of change. She quotes Gertrude Stein: “How do you like what you have?”

Reflection questions:

1. Meditate on your own deep questions. Do you allow yourself truly to listen to them and to seek answers? Are there other places (or people) where you could seek answers?

Uh, the honest answer is, “Sometimes.” I have to be accepting enough of the possibilities of the answers b/c they may not be what I want to hear! But when I commit to sitting still and listening, yes, I do listen and seek. The problem, of course, is sitting still long enough! I also do a fairly good job of seeking out “the right person for the job” in my discernment process.

2. Contemplate Gertrude Stein’s question: “How do you like what you have?” and then write down your response. Sometime today ask this question of a friend and just listen.

Honestly, mostly I like what I have very much. By “have” I don’t mean the stuff I have; I mean what I have inside me. I think mostly it’s good stuff. I think my perception of the good stuff, however, can become skewed by other people. I like what I have better now than ten years ago. Overall it is all getting “more likable” but wow is this a slow process!

3. Do you consider yourself a good listener? Why or why not?

Again, I’m going to qualify my answer. I’m a TREMENDOUS listener when I WANT to be! I’m like the song in the musical “Oklahoma”, “Give me all or nothin’.” I’m soooooo “all or nothin’” in my ability to listen...both when dealing with the issues of others, or listening as it relates to changing myself. I have to learn to WANT to listen better, and therein lies the challenge!

Today the discussion centers around the Buddha’s rule of friendship...”The rule of friendship,” the Buddha says, “means there should be mutual sympathy between them, each supplying what the other lacks, and trying to benefit the other...” She then talks about the value of friends that can touch each other’s soul, stretch each other’s mind, or prod each other’s conscience.

Reflection questions:

1. How would you describe your own “rule of friendship?” Does Buddha’s definition have meaning for you? Why or why not? What criteria do you use when choosing friends?

I am growing into the Buddha’s rule. I don’t think I ever thought about the “mutuality” of friendship until recently...maybe starting 8 years ago when I decided to move to Kirksville, and even that was kind of just a glimpse of the meaning of this. I knew I “lacked something” and people I already knew in NE Missouri “had it” more than people in Columbia did. I am realizing now, at a more stable understanding of the value of friends, that I was striving to participate in this “rule” but sort of subconsciously.

I can’t think of any particular “criteria” when I choose my friends, but I do know that all of my closest ones, something happens in a non-coincidental way where it becomes apparent something one of us lacks gets lavished on the other in some sort of situation, and there seems to be a “completeness” for both of us from the experience. It seems my friends are “chosen” more by a shared experience than a set of traits.

2. Make a list of your closest friends. Describe how either the Buddha’s rule of friendship or your own rule of friendship works in those relationships.

I am pretty struck at how among my closest friends, there really IS a “You can use this from me, and I need this from you, and we’ll both be better for it” bond. We tend to be perfectly ok as independent people, but there is something when we are in the presence of each other, we are bigger than both of us in those moments when we “click.” Some of this “bigger than both of us” thing, frankly, is the big elephant under the rug of “love.” I have developed an awareness of the depth and power of love that our friends share with us.

Fifteen, twenty years ago, I would have compartmentalized this. I would have said “You like your friends and you love your significant romantic interest.” “Loving” your friends sounded a little creepy to me back then and had mixed messed up sexual overtones to me. Now, I would tell you there is an amazing deep and true-hearted form of love that you share with your best friends that is incredibly satisfying in its own right. (I suppose anyone who wants to feel skeptical about this can just pooh-pooh me by saying, “You say that b/c you ain’t gettin’ any,” but since some of my friends are married and they can vouch for this feeling, I don’t think it would be accurate to dismiss my thought solely on those terms.)

I have also discovered the delight of friends who you spiritually connect with, as well as connect on the “usual” interactive levels. Wow, that is powerful. In the middle of that is a love that is incredibly joyful...maybe because what I’m feeling is the love of God, not just the love of this friend alone, manifested through that friend. I think though, this is hard to vocalize, and sometimes I worry that I am not doing as much for my friends as my friends seem to do for me. I think sometimes the elephant under the rug keeps us from really saying to these people how important their love is to me and vice versa. I am trying to be better at this. I would hate to think I’d drop dead and these people would never know the depth to which they are loved!

3. Meditate on how your friendships mutually “really touch the soul or stretch the mind or prod the conscience.”

Here’s a non-coincidence: I had just said something to a friend yesterday about how our friends sometimes are catalysts even though the interaction at that moment wasn’t perfect. When I was tired and grouchy two nights ago, I was hoping for one sort of interaction with my friend, but didn’t really get it—yet the interaction “as is” was still a bit of a catalyst b/c it helped me see a bigger picture of something. Then there are the moments that I like to say culminate in that “extra nanosecond” I like to talk about. The moments when you and your friends “click” and the pure love and delight of it just shines through. Then there are the quiet or uncertain or scary or sad times when your friends can’t do a thing to help you, but they are “there” just the same, whether physically, or spiritually. I like ALL those moments!

Today’s discussion is about loss and asks the question, “Where is the will of God for us in loss?” She says that loss leaves us “left to cope with an abandoned pattern of happy yesterdays left spinning in a blur of bleak tomorrows.”

Reflection questions:

1. Meditate on your experiences of great loss. As a result of these losses, did you experience the destabilization of your life? Describe the experience.

All of the major losses in my life were more destabilizing than I thought they would be, and the heightened destabilization of it had a very disorienting effect. This is often a delayed effect for me. I am incredibly put together in the acute moments of a crisis. It is the “afterwards” where the unraveling and the destabilizing occurs for me, and it tends to “sneak up on me”. It is a slow unraveling that is punctuated by acute moments of grief. It is frustrating because trying to hold it together is like trying to stop a shirt with a loose thread from unraveling. It can’t be done. I go through the motions of daily living, and mostly on the surface I “look okay” but there seems to be no cohesiveness to it from my point of view. Then, over time, when it’s all unraveled, something seems to happen where things start to get put back together again, not the same as before, but in a way that is ok.

The one thing I have to guard against, though, in times of loss, is I have a tendency to say to myself, “I will never be hurt like this again,” and to make this “come true” I have a tendency to close off a part of me to the world; wall it off, seal it in. That has been a bit of a problem lately b/c some of those walls have crumbled a bit and I am dealing with the residue.

2. Where was God in the losses you experienced, either in the past or the present?

That’s not always apparent for me at first, mostly because in the most painful parts of my loss I tend to shove God to the side. He’s there, I just don’t always choose to look for him. My bad habit is in times of loss or even threat of loss, I still have to play out my “I’m tough and I’m in control” illusions. I have not yet grown past that. But even when playing that role out, I feel God pushing at my back, never totally leaving me alone with my illusion, which truthfully, kind of irritates the hell out of me! The other problem these days with my illusion is that God has brought friends into my life that are “too smart to fool”. They tend to be “God’s little helpers” in this process, because they flat out confront me about what they are observing about my demeanor and might even say something like, “To anyone else you probably look ok, but I know you are upset/sad/hurting/whatever and you’d die before you’d admit it.”

Over time, in this process, God becomes more apparent as part of the healing process but it is because I start to slowly give up my illusions that can’t be held together in that “unraveling” I was talking about. I don’t treat God any differently than anyone else when I’m hurting. My usual pattern for years and years is “shove everyone away and be alone in the existential elements of my hurt, then slowly let everyone back in.” But the bottom line is in my mind, God is always there as he is always there for everything else in my life, but I am the one shoving him off and coming back to him.

3. Have you ever thought, in the wake of great loss, “What can possibly be left to live for, even though, for whatever reason, live I must?” What answers emerged for you during the grief process?

That statement is WAY too dramatic for my blood! Believe me, I have never been THAT dramatic about this. A more appropriate way of putting it in my psyche is “I just have to get up every day and live through this shit long enough, and eventually it will let up.” Really, as I go through repeated experiences of different kinds of grief, I learn different lessons. But the big lesson in it all is, “Somewhere in the middle of all this is healing. Somewhere in the middle of this are bonds that can’t be broken between me and God and those close to me in my life, and they are helping me bear this even if I am pretending I am doing it all by myself.”

One of the things I enjoy doing on many days is taking my "weed walk." My house is at the end of a gravel road that turns to dirt. All spring, summer and for part of the fall, the dirt road is lined with colorful weeds. I enjoy walking through the summer and fall watching the weeds change and the colors change week by week. With fall coming early, the last three weeks have been an explosion of color, and now the dark part of fall has come and my weed walk is going into its "dormant" mode. So here are a few pictures I took over the past three weeks...

Purple heath asters have to be my favorites...

Tall thoroughwort intrigues me, even though normally I don't like white flowers all that well. It's so bushy and the little flowers are so spiny in a way....

Missouri has at least 6 or 7 varieties of sunflower but I like the tickseed sunflower the best because it has "fat" petals.


Today’s readings explore one of the tenets of Sufism—the divine nature of human life, the meaning of love, and the reality of union with God. She talks about how Sufism started out as asceticism and moved more towards mysticism.

Reflection questions:

1. A central tenet of Sufism is that God’s mercy is greater than God’s wrath. Meditate on both God’s mercy and wrath. In your own life of faith, do you find yourself dwelling on more on the mercy of God or the wrath of God? Why?

I am seeing a switch in my thought processes. I’ve spent a lot of my life being apprehensive of “the wrath of God.” I have always felt that I wasn’t living up to whatever I was supposed to be living up to. What I am starting to realize is what I used to think was part of the “wrath of God” is really “the wrath of the world.” But what we often want to attribute to “God’s punishment” or “God ignoring us” or “God kicking us in the ass”, is really the world and our realization that the more holy parts of us don’t fit in the world so well.

In the last few years, I have started to see “the mercy of God” overriding “the wrath of God” in my life. This was not anything conscious. It just seems to be shifting this way. This might be a side effect of just being more aware of God and spending more time “just hanging” with God. There was a place where I finally got tired of being afraid of “God the authority figure.” I’m a grownup, I don’t need to be cowering to authority figures. God had to become something more real to me if I was going to feel any kind of “anything” towards God. I knew my relationship with God had to go “somewhere”.

2. Do you find yourself longing for mystical understanding and experience? If so, what are you doing to answer your longing? If not, why not?

Uh, yes and no. I did not set out on this journey thinking, “Oh, wow, I’d like one of them thar mystical experiences.” Quite the contrary. As a thinking person, I poo-pooed the mystic aspects of religion. It was for “soft squishy people”, “weak-minded people who want to escape from reality.” Then I go and have a couple of mystical moments where I am literally privy to God’s presence, “The glory of the Lord,” whatever you want to call it...and after my initial “What the hell just happened” moment, I started to realize there was a reality to this experience that is more real than anything I’ve seen in the physical world. It is a reality that lives in the center of myself, a reality I never bothered to consider. What I find now is I crave that experience in a way I did not expect.

Mostly I just try to sit and “be” and let the moments take care of think of my body as just kind of the vehicle that animates something bigger inside of it, try to get that “something” to come out and play. Part of that process is to focus on something bigger than me...a star in the yard, the moon, the pattern of the flames in my chiminea, and just let it drive the bus. It doesn’t always work but it’s still good.

3. Write about how you understand “the divine nature of life, the meaning of human love, and the reality of union with God.”

Truthfully, I really don’t, yet, in any meaningful amount! I am just learning! I’m having to do this as an “adult learner” so it is slow going at times. But what I’ve figured out so far is that there is a reality in our own souls that I did not appreciate. It is filled with more goodness than I ever imagined and I need to become more in touch with it. This goodness inside of me had to be placed there by God, in fact, maybe it is the “image of God in which we are created.” God is not about fear and wrath and being an authority figure, despite a lot of peoples assertions to the contrary (sigh). I know I used to be a person who didn’t have much use for “love” in the sense of our stereotypical pop culture view of it. But I am understanding deeper underpinnings to love. The problem is it makes me pretty dissatisfied about any sort of love that is “less real” and makes me have very little patience for things that are “not real”--even more so than before, and I’ve always been a person who craves “real.”

I know that in those times when I just “sit and be” with God, I can feel his presence—not in equal amounts every time but at least in some amount. I know that this is addictive, and very real. That’s about as far as I can get with it at this point.

Had to throw this one up for your enjoyment. I downloaded a few more digital pictures I took as I am learning the "overrides" and the "manual tweaks" on my new digital camera I got a couple months ago. This one is of my neighbor's pasture a little past daybreak. Sun, foggy mist, and big round bales are kind of nice!

Today’s readings center on a quote by Gandhi: “I have only three enemies. My favorite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”

Reflection questions:

1. Who is your “favorite enemy,” your “most formidable opponent”? How do you confront this enemy?

I have to confess my “favorite enemies” are the small minded evangelical Christian mindset “family values” types. They really rile up the “how dare they” part of me. How dare they tell me that I should feel bad about not being married and having kids. How dare they tell me how to worship my God. How dare they tell me the way I was reared, as messed up and imperfect as it was, is “ungodly” compared to their ideal of rearing children, that I find in a lot of ways equally ungodly. How dare they tell me that who I vote for is ungodly. How dare they tell me that I am WORSE than “IM-moral”, that I am “A-moral.” AAAAAAARRRGGGGHHHH!

I generally confront this enemy by being unabashedly, unashamedly, unrepentantly me. Me at the edges. Me at the fringes. Me that loves “shock value.” When they try to stare me down spiritually, I love to logic them to death. I can make them run off foaming at the mouth muttering they will pray for me (and all my ‘transgressions’ )

My most formidable opponent, though, I have to admit, I’m with Gandhi on this one. My most formidable opponent is ME. That is because my most formidable opponent can be incredibly stubborn, unyielding, and unflinching. Frustrating too! There’s not much point in me confronting this enemy, because I cannot win against my most formidable opponent. Only God can, and he has to wrestle with this person for quite a while sometimes. The only way my most formidable opponent will change is if this person sits and “marinates in God” for a spell—sometimes days to weeks—so the meat will soften up and be flavored!

2. Make a list of “spiritual leaders” (living or dead) whom you admire. What are their attributes and activities that you would like to integrate into your own spiritual life? How would you begin doing it?

This is kind of a “truth or dare” question but ok, fine.

Ok, obviously, I admire Jesus. I would like to incorporate his willingness to “do what’s right even though I may be physically hurt by it” attitude. I have a pretty strong dose of self-protection that stops me from this.

I admire Moses. He did what God asked of him, even though he had a speech impediment, and yet he was not allowed to walk in where he led his people, but he was ok with that too. I would like to have more of his perseverance.

I admire Bishop Gene Robinson. How he handles what he has handled in the past few years without wanting to beat the shit out of everyone is a mystery to me. I wish I could have his calm demeanor.

I admire Black Elk of the Ogala Sioux. He seemed very at peace with incorporating Sioux spirituality with Christianity, and I share a lot of his views of how nature and God fit together.

I admire Katharine Jefferts Schori the Presiding Bishop for the Episcopal Church. Partly because of how she has handled the schismatics in the church with quiet confidence that the church is bigger than all of us, but mostly because she is a biologist and I see how she fits together her scientific knowledge and her spiritual knowledge to work for her. Most clergy types I know are not scientists, so it is hard for us to have common language sometimes, as much as I like them!

Mostly, I try to be aware of these things I admire in these people and let God work them into me somehow. I realize I can’t “force feed” them. This might sound like a “lazy way out” but simply being aware of things can be heavy soul work!

2. Have you ever practiced meditation and fasting as spiritual disciplines? If so, write about the experience and its impact on your spiritual life. If not, can you imagine learning and practicing these disciplines?

Yes, but not exactly at the same time. I imagine a lot of my “sitting in my sacred space in the yard” is a form of meditation, although I might, at times, want to claim it’s not b/c I’m not using any sort of “official rules” for meditation as outlined in methods such as “centering prayer”, etc. It might be a facet of my personality that I like being a “maverick” and some of that includes pretending to be a bit of a maverick when I’m really not.

I fasted for the first time in my life on Sept. 25 as part of support for the Millennium Development Goals, from sundown Sept. 24 to sundown Sept. 25. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it until I was almost finished b/c I did not want to talk big talk and then fail. That is something else that is my style. I don’t like to talk big talk beforehand. I just like to go and do, and talk afterwards.

I think the “sacred space in the yard” activity (see, I’m not going to call it “meditation” ) has been an area where I feel some change occurring inside of me, but it is very subtle and I cannot put my finger on exactly what that change is. I am reticent to discuss its “impact” because right now, I don’t know what that is . I don’t like to explain things I can’t yet explain!

I am not sure what to say about the fasting activity yet, because it’s the first time I ever did it. What I can say is since it occurred on a normal work day, I did not find myself being too overly hungry b/c work distracted me. I don’t know if I devoted a day to only fasting and meditation if that would be applicable. I might seem hungrier! I did have a couple times where I felt my body feeling a little “deprived” and had to deal with a sense that my blood sugar levels were accomodating to a “fast”...had a couple moments of real sleepiness in the day. But again, I would have to do this more to say more!

I went to the birthday party of my cousin's youngest, who just turned two. The highlight of the party was "Earl, the Bubble-Attacking Bull Terrier Mix." Now, Earl is a "cattle dog" by trade. Normally, he is the dog his owners use to help get their big Angus bull from one place to another. But we had a "soap bubble making machine" going to make a party atmosphere. Earl found the bubbles, well...quite attractive as "prey." He spent a good thirty minutes chasing the bubbles (you can barely see one above his nose) while his friend Madeline the Setter looked on. She thought it looked like fun, but didn't chase the bubbles herself. Instead, she barked her encouragement to Earl while he jumped and ran and attacked the bubbles! It was quite a show!

Today’s reflections center on “the tension between the catechetical and the mystical, the dogmatic and the spiritual, that is infecting every dimension of human life.”

Reflection questions:

2. In your life of faith, are you primarily committed to the “catechetical” or the “mystical,” the “dogmatic” or the “spiritual”? Explain.

I’m a mix. Actually, I’m an “evolving mix”. Growing up in a liturgical denomination, and also because I have a obsessive-compulsive overtones, I can remember even as a child of about 9 or 10 realizing in the middle of the Eucharist, whether it was in the Lutheran church of my youth, or in the Roman Catholic church of my best friends, “Wow, if I just stand here and DO this enough times, eventually I can BECOME it.” (Of course I had already “become” it, just didn’t recognize it!) The systematic “always the same” parts of liturgical worship hooked me. Yet I chafed under the “rules.” I realize now that I had discovered the mysticism that is in the center of the catechetical, the spiritual that is the core of the dogmatic, even as a child. I just didn’t know what it was, and the people who were more into the catechetical and the dogmatic tried to make me feel my disregard for the “rules” was bad.

I laugh even now how I commit little catechetical “acts of daring and defiance”. The big one is when I get the sacrament. Of course, I grew up not even being allowed to touch it. Then at some point we were allowed to get it in our hands but there was a big deal about exactly how we were to hold our hands and craziness like not closing it up in your fist and squishing it, etc. But as a middle aged person re-discovering my spirituality and a church community, I realized I had a deep seated need to “hold God’s hand” and so I began to close my hand around the sacrament and brush the fingers of the person handing it out, because at that moment their hand WAS “God’s hand.” There are some weeks my mind hears the collective gasp of the people in my childhood who would have had a cow over that, and I kind of grin inwardly with that little defiant grin that I have when I have gotten away with something!

What I am discovering now is that the mystical and the spiritual has always been with me, but that it felt separate from the catechetical and the dogmatic. These four elements are starting to merge inside of me and become more comfortable with each other. Up until a couple years ago, they felt like four separate entities lined up on two sides of the room. They are starting to mix and mingle a little.

2. In your life, is “feeling as important as thinking”? If so, what does that mean for you? If not, what role does feeling play in your life?

It’s becoming more so, although thinking is still a bigger part of me. For so many years I have suppressed any evolution of “feeling.” There was a place, I think, where I could no longer hold it all. The “feeling” part of me still grew inside of me, despite my not feeding or watering it...existing on the ambient environment...and I came to the realization that my armor was getting some pretty big rents in it. It no longer fit me. I got in the process of shedding the heavy old armor and trying on some lighter stuff—like trading steel for Kevlar. But I still am not ready to go “armorless.” Thinking is still a form of self-protection for me, and still a very integral part of me that leads over feeling. But the percentage of me that is “feeling” has changed a little.

I realize its role in my life at this point is to provide balance. Balance is important if I’m going to broaden my spiritual base!

3. Reflect on experiences where your feelings have moved you to act on behalf of others. Reflect on experiences where the feelings of others have changed the way you act.

The one that comes to mind right away is doing flood relief work in Iowa City simply b/c a member of my church was so personally impassioned about the floods in Iowa. She got up and gave an impassioned update on the flooding and about her old friends, etc. in Cedar Rapids that I could NEVER have done in front of everyone at church b/c it was too full of feeling. Yet it touched me in a way I wanted to be a part of the solution. So it is a perfect example of how the feelings of others changed me.

The one I think of where I was led by my own feelings was fixing the pews at our church. I was led by an inner voice to do it, and I just up and did it. It made me eat my own words. I have always made fun of the “disciples in the boat and Jesus says to follow him and they just up and did it.” I used to laugh at how unrealistic that was. Well, DUH. I’m guilty now of that too!

Today’s discussion revolves around Plato’s saying , “The unexamined life is not worth living.” She discusses how the ability to question things in our life is a form of fidelity.

Reflection questions:

1. What areas in your life need to be questioned and examined?

Hmmm...this is a hard question because I think I do a fairly good job generally of continually questioning and examining my life. But probably the main ones would be how feelings of “rejection and abandonment” can create delusions of what is happening around me that are not quite accurate. These delusions tend to make me overreact, and often are the trigger to my occasional moments of “volcanic anger.” This is a paradoxical emotion for me, because for the most part, I am fairly solitary, independent, and don’t need people around me all the time.

2. In what ways do you presently go about examining your life? What do you need to open yourself further to self-examination and growth? Do you have a truth teller, someone to help you examine your life? If not, could you find one?

Mostly, I examine my life by “sitting with it.” I try to objectively think about the issue and be real about what parts of me could be dragging it to a pathologic place. I pray about it. I bounce my thoughts off of trusted friends. But even your “trusted friends” are never 100% truth tellers for one simple reason...because they are your friends, they will never tell you something quite “point blank” because they simply don’t want to hurt you! They might come close. They might blurt it out in a moment of frustration and feel sorry about it afterwards. But truth telling is dangerous in a pure form to some degree; friends don’t want to totally risk their friendship. This might be why friends need to understand their covenants with each other, so they CAN get a little closer to being completely truthful.

Mostly, to open myself further, I need TIME. Don’t we all?

3. Meditate on the idea that questioning your life is a “dangerous process.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

It IS a “dangerous process” for several reasons. First of all, as I sort of brought up in the previous question, as the old adage goes, “The truth hurts sometimes.” Opening one’s self up to hurt is never fun. It sets you up to be sidetracked in your regrets, if you are not careful, and if you don’t let someone in there with you a little bit when your heart is open and raw. As a friend and I were talking about yesterday, “A little bit of self-pity is good, because it teaches you to let go. A lot, not so good.” We agreed part of the role of a trusted friend in this process was to “keep it real”.

The other “danger” is you, as a result of your self examination, may realize what you “knew to be as true” is no longer valid, and that you might have to rearrange your way of thinking about things. You may have to (gulp)...change. Now, I don’t mean “change” as in becoming a shiny, happy, cookie cutter Christian. You will still be “you”. But something changes...maybe very subtly at first, only recognizable through the “retrospectoscope”. But that involves the pain of letting go of “old truths”--things that were 110% valid at one part of your life, but not so much now. This process is painful, exposing, and can make you feel that “your past wasn’t quite right.” But it is part of the self-examination that has to happen if one ultimately “lives a life with no regrets.”

Many of you that follow MadPriest's blog also know that a big canine friend of ours there, Grendel, had The Last Day. In watching the blogosphere grieve for Grendel and with Aghaveagh, Grendel has taught me a wonderful lesson, a lesson in which I was trying to sort out in an earlier post.

It dawned on me when I was fighting back big ol' tears for a dog I never met. If I can believe in the power of a dog on the blogosphere, why is it such a stretch to believe in Heaven at times?

So many of us, when we entered the blogosphere, we entered it with the cloak of a certain degree of anonymity. We wanted to say what was in our hearts from a safe, shadowy shelter. But as many of us start to get to know the various monikers, whether we ever "really" learn who they are as real people or not, we end up making blogfriends that in some ways are more attuned, more connected to the "real us" because we had the shelter of semi-anonymity. So, in some ways, our blogfriends see the deeper, truer parts of us...more than the "real" people in our lives.

There is a lesson in that. We all need to go forth on some days with the parts of ourselves we show fearlessly on our blogs. Thank you, Grendel, for reminding me of that lesson. Thanks be to God, allelluia, and amen!

Today’s readings focus on the concept of “How we pray says what we believe about God, about life itself, and about ourselves.” She also talks about how as we grow spiritually, our prayer life “evolves.” When we are children, we “say our prayers.” As we become adults, we “go to prayer.” But when we begin to see prayer as the undergirding of life, and the pulse of the universe, we BECOME a prayer.

Reflection questions:

1. Contemplate your prayer life. When do you pray? How often do you pray? How do you pray? What do you pray for?

Although I realize I have “set times” for more traditional forms of prayer (early a.m. and just before bedtime) I am starting to realize there are moments in my day that ARE praying and I didn’t realize I was doing it till I notice I just DID it. So, I think I am sort of in the evolution process between “going to prayer” and “becoming a prayer.” I pray in the traditional sense, I pray by holding holy objects in my hands, sometimes I pray by just sitting still and being.

These days I pray less and less “for” stuff. I don’t like the idea of God as a celestial Coke machine where you put your prayer quarters in, and out comes a Coke, just as you ordered. I think that is part of my prayer life evolution too. Children pray FOR stuff. We’re back to the fact I crave an adult relationship with God, not a sugar daddy.

2. Are you happy with your prayer life? If so, what is the ground of your happiness? If not, what changes could you make to your daily routines and practices in order for prayer to become a more central part of your life?

I’m mostly happy but could be better. I am learning! I’m on the learning curve here, and I think maybe I just have the usual frustrations of being on the learning curve!

The “ground of my happiness” is mostly just the feeling of being near God. Even if I don’t always feel I’m “right there” with him (that is a very rare feeling) I feel “close enough” that it is comforting.

3. With respect to prayer, imagine what it would be like to “grow into a heart without words.”

Really, there’s not much to imagine. I think I am actually doing it! But it’s like a lot of things we grow into, we don’t always feel the “growth” unless we have a “growth spurt” or a significant experience in the middle of it. Most of what I see is when I look through the “retrospectoscope” and see things have changed for me. I see I am thinking of things in a different way than a couple of years ago. I see the depth and the breadth of my relationships changing. I see my own ability to face difficult truths changing.

For many years, people have told me I “have a big heart but don’t always show it or give it away.” That big heart has always been there—God has entrusted it to me—but I don’t think I have ever started to really, REALLY grow into it until recently. The “bigness” of it seemed like a big void I could not fill with myself without it sucking myself dry. One thing that has helped me there is seeing the big hearts of others, and how some of the people in my life can unabashedly give of their big hearts. It makes me (a little more) unafraid to at least try!

I must admit one thing, though. I’m a little afraid of how “big” this big heart of mine might be. I’m a little afraid of its ability to break open. This journey takes more courage than I care to admit, or share with most people. It takes me to the edge of what I traditionally see as “courageous vs. chicken,” “brave vs. wuss,” “strong vs. weak” and “confident vs. humble.” It turns my edges all around. What I used to see as “hard” boundaries are not so hard anymore. These boundaries are softer and that bothers me, truthfully. To grow into a heart without words means I have to “tear down those walls” and I am, at times, afraid to see what is back there.

Ok, it is a "Sittin' out in the yard with a fire goin' in the chiminea, laptop in my lap, windin' down and thinkin' 'bout things spiritual," sort of night.

The night rolled in and brought some wonderful pinks and yellows and purples to the dusk. This week in Kirksville, just prior to Truman State Homecoming this weekend, is a "days in the 60's/nights in the 40's" kind of week. It's real NE Missouri fall. The leaves are turning early this year compared to last year--about 3 weeks early, to be exact. In the distance I can hear my neighbor "combine'n beans." A lot of people who farm also have day jobs so they run their combine at night. Not much noise in the way of bugs or critters except for two of the feral cats tussling somewhere out in the pasture. No coyotes, no owls tonight. It's pretty quiet, other than Little Eddie barking a little at the feral cats. Later tonight, I HAVE to pay some bills. Getting your house payment in on time is a good thing. But before I do that, I just want to sit out in my sacred space in the yard and let my brain wander.

You know, one of the things I can never wrap my brain totally around is the concept of Heaven. Truthfully, all the "traditional" images don't cut it for me, it seems, well...boring in a way. The problem with imagining ourselves in Heaven is that we are incapable of imagining ourselves in a different plane of existence. Face it, when we think about it, we still imagine "us"...just in a different locale. That, of course, doesn't cut it. Everything that is "us" as we know it, well DUH, it died!

My stereotypical image just doesn't cut it. I imagine myself in pretty much the body I'm in, hanging out in a different place, and, in a way, at a loss for what to "do" since there is no time. There are no jobs there even close to what I do around here. Here's another hitch--truthfully, part of what makes me "me" in this world is I am always just a little irked about something, and honestly, I like sparring over it! I kind of like mild fussing and grumping and cynicism and mentally sparring with my friends. Well, as best as I can tell, Heaven is a place with none of that stuff...again, making me think, "Wow! That sounds boring!"

How do you understand "happy" without "sad?" How do you understand "content" without "disgruntled?" How do you understand "delight" without "sorrow?" That is the part that boggles my feeble human mind. My soul needs a tiny bit of aggravation to make it spark. How will I be fed in a place that doesn't have any aggravation? Ok, I think I can deal with a place without sorrow, but I'm not sure I care much for a place devoid of little aggravations.

All I can figure out for sure is to use a phrase that Midwesterners and Southerners tend to use when they come home from vacation and are asked how it was. The stock answer is, "I liked it; it was different." All I know for sure about Heaven is "it's gonna be different." I'm gonna be different. Everyone I know is gonna be different. I just can't imagine what that "different" entails because I don't really understand "what I'll be."

Think about it. We handle all these situations on earth because we, for the most part, know ourselves going into it. It's near impossible to imagine a situation not knowing "yourself". This is a place where all the things I know to be absolutely true in this world, well...much of it is gone. No compass. No bearings. No GPS. It's more "wilderness" than I can dare imagine. The only clue I have is when I set out in my personal contemplative prayer time to dare to venture even a hundred yards into the core of emptiness. All I know about THAT is for maybe at most, 60 seconds, I can sense a "bigness" to the universe. Again, I'm not going along with the crowd here. I don't see light, or tunnels, or whatever. I just sense in those moments things are big, and interconnected. Maybe that's why I like my yard at night. Perhaps the bigness of sky above a pasture helps me see the "bigness" of God.

The other problem with me sitting around and cogitating about Heaven is it pushes me to the literal brink of my faith. It brings me closest to that fearful moment when, because I can't imagine Heaven, the little voice that flares up and yells, "maybe all this religion is bullshit, maybe you just die and that's that," tries to take over. This is where my more fundamentalist friends find me incredibly weird and hopeless. They get all "la la happy happy joy joy" talking about Heaven and I am sitting there going, "Uh...I dunno...I'm not even sure if I'm gonna LIKE it."

But I find myself always walking to the edge in this mental exercise, yet eventually, going, "'s real." Mostly because there have been too many "non-coincidences" in my life, but part of it is, the more I feel that fear of "this is all bullshit" grip me, that same "bigness" seems to slowly take over my demeanor, my breathing, and calms me. What I realize is, in the end, it's all about trust.

Trust is the only assurance I have that Heaven is a real place and that God will take care of the details. Faith is the human emotion that is the outward expression of that trust. Even that trust is a little edgy at times; after all, I am a person who tends to run the other direction when someone says, "Trust me!" But hey, so far, God's never tried to sell me insurance, nor robo-call me, nor put stuff in my inbox that says I may have already it's a mite easier to trust God in that sense.

But when it's all said and done, all I can do is trust that there will be a joyful reality to it like nothing I've ever experienced, even if I have no idea what I'll "be" or what I'll "do" when I get there!

Finally! Something I can relax and lean back and chat about! Today’s discussion is about the value of laughter in our spirituality. She says, “Once we learn to laugh and play, we have come closer to understanding our laughing, playing God.”

1. Meditate on this question: “Is there enough laughter in my life?”

In short, HELL, YES! Along with my sense of loyalty, my ability to laugh, and make others laugh, and even be laughed at in a spirit of good fun might be one of my strongest suits of all. My laughter is doubt about it. It is often a prelude to that “magic extra nanosecond” when those close to me look at me just a little longer, cock their heads and smile at me with that smile that says, “You are a wonderful and magic person in my life. You make me feel just a little more alive by just being you.”

I am sort of gladdened by that fact that, even though I look in the mirror in middle age and am starting to see wrinkles, they are in the corners of my eyes, not my forehead. It tells me that my eyes twinkle with laughter more than my forehead furrows with worry. That makes me feel good, in an odd sort of way.

I want to believe that part of what bonds me to the people close to me is that they love to watch me laugh, that they love for me to get them to laugh, when we laugh together that it is truly a holy moment. I want to believe, that if I dropped dead tomorrow, my ability to laugh and make others laugh would be a subject of discussion at my visitation and funeral. I want to believe that, when I’m long gone, those left behind will think of me and laugh.

2. In spite of what goes on in your life and in the world, do you “find life exhilarating?” If so, is there any relationship between this and how much you laugh? If not, are there ways you could reframe your experience in the light of our “laughing God?”

I have the ability to find some of the most obscure, exhilarating moments of life. Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly get “down.” I can be incredibly morose. But the laws of physics say that for every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That means for the deepest, saddest, hardest parts of my life, sooner or later, I will be laughing so hard I can hardly catch my breath, and the person with me will start to get tickled because I am so tickled with myself.

In the worst times of my life, I have never given up on the power of laughter. In fact, my sorrows are what has shaped my laughter. As I’ve said before, “Comedy = Tragedy + Time.” When I relate my comedic versions of some story in the Bible, or draw some funny parallel to myself with a Biblical character, God and I are laughing together. Those moments of connection when my friends and I are laughing together are another little glimpse of what Heaven is like for me. It is one of the purest forms of love—real love—I know. It might be the most real, the most tangible, of all the ways God shows his love.

3. Have you experienced God as a “God of ridiculous promises?” If so, how does it make you feel? Like you want to laugh or cry or perhaps be angry? What does that tell you? Why or why not?

Giving us the joy and delight of eternal life by the tragedy of Christ dying on the cross might be the most "ridiculous promise" of all. For God to allow the most precious thing in his realm to die, to suffer through that loss, and turn around and love us with a fierce love that doesn’t stop, it’s crazy. It makes no intuitive sense. But somehow through that, God continues to laugh. He laughs at us, with us, and through us. That makes me feel loved in a way I can barely describe. It makes me want to spread that love, and maybe my most precious God-bestowed gift is the unique way he fashioned me so I could see something truly funny in almost everything. One of the best compliments my friends give me is when they say, “You make me laugh---I mean REALLY laugh!”



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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