Level 3 Member
Thursday, September 1, 2011, 9:26 PM
In larger cities people scan obituaries to see if anyone they know has passed away. In a small town like ours, we know almost instantly by word of mouth who has left us and we wait to see how the person’s life gets written up in the next day’s paper. This was the case regarding the man who put new flooring in our foyer and added a rail to the front porch after we moved here. He fell to his death while roofing a large century-old house just a couple of blocks away. Before the day ended, some men in the community gathered and finished the new roof he had begun that morning. The line at the funeral home stretched out the door and someone remarked that in a small town like ours anything that happens affects everybody. There was a lot of truth in those words.
The man who died had more than a mustard seed of faith. He owned a construction business he had built through hard work over the past twenty-five years. Whenever something needed to be fixed at church, he did it quickly, quietly and refused payment. In fact, the week of his death he had just finished adding shelves to the closet where the funeral luncheon supplies were stored. No one could have imagined his funeral luncheon would be the next one served. When death passes so close by, the problems we thought we had suddenly shrink. We remember what a gift it is to be able to do the simplest things from walking and laughing to folding laundry and cooking breakfast.
In times like these, we reach for prayer, almost by reflex. However, scripture encourages us to “pray always,” rather than just in times of trouble. We can form a habit of prayer from greeting the morning with praise and ending the day with gratitude. Brother Lawrence, a 17th century lay brother in a monastery in France spent his life scrubbing pots and pans in the kitchen and repairing sandals. While he worked, he practiced the presence of God in all that he did so that his daily life became his prayer. We can be quite comfortable praying while we do whatever else must be done. When we live in prayerful gratitude, we think less and less about ourselves and more and more about what others need.
A mustard seed of faith, combined with deep gratitude, prayer and humility is a powerful recipe for a life that makes a difference. Our friend who lost his footing on the rooftop lived a life that was grounded in the only way that really counts. Still, we think he may have been surprised to find he had always been just a step away from eternity.
Thursday, August 18, 2011, 1:22 PM
The good thing about making an apple pie is that it provides time to think. On the day of our parish social I am in the kitchen at 6 a.m. rolling out crust for apple pies. Yesterday afternoon the grocery clerk looked at the bags of apples on the checkout counter and said, “You must really like apples.” When I told her they were for pies she asked, “How many?” “Nine,” I replied. “How long will that take?” She asked and I began to get the feeling that making one apple pie might be outside her realm of experience. “Not too long,” I said. You assemble the ingredients in batches. Make all the crust the night before. Store it in small batches in the refrigerator. Next morning make the filling for three pies. While those bake, make the filling for three more. After three batches, you’ll have nine pies.”
There are plenty of recipes for pie, and none tell you everything you need to know. Pie has to be made slowly, carefully, allowing time and space to think about other things. The recipes always say to make crust with cold water. They don’t tell you to put ice cubes in a large glass of water and let it get so cold it will frost the measuring spoon. Crust recipes seldom say to handle the dough as little as possible, nor do they tell you to put some muscle behind the rolling pin to make a crust so thin you can hold it up and see daylight on the other side. No recipe tells you to make extra dough so you will have enough for a fancy edge around the top. Cinnamon goes in the filling, but throwing in a pinch of cloves and nutmeg will sharpen the flavor. Recipes won’t tell you how to make a little foil sleeve to cover the rim before you put pies in the oven, or that you must keep large sheets of foil handy to spread over the tops of the pies the last 20 minutes. In fact, recipes never tell you most of what you really need to know to make a great apple pie.
That’s the way it is with making a home. There are tons of TV shows telling people how to decorate a house, or how to buy furniture and accessories. So-called “reality” shows explore all kinds of ways to create a family from finding a mate to how to straighten out bratty kids and how to organize a home and keep it neat and clean.
What people never talk about is how to have a home that feeds the spirit. What about prayer around the edges, love in the middle and a healthy spoonful of forgiveness? Five hundred years ago alchemists tried to find a way to turn lead into gold. Today, knowing how to turn common apples into a pie or knowing how to create a home that will nourish the spirit may be as elusive as the secret of changing lead into gold.
Sunday, August 14, 2011, 6:47 PM
Even in our small backyard we have adventures in gardening. Dill planted by the kitchen door last year came back this past summer, grew three feet tall and went to seed. We pulled the plants out and threw them away. A couple of weeks later, leftover seeds sprouted and feathery dill foliage shot up in the same place. Now I know why my mother always referred to this plant as “dill weed.”
One morning I opened the back door and looked down to find most of the foliage gone and only bare green stems left. Taking a closer look I found six or seven black and green caterpillars making quick work of the new dill shoots. A little dill is a small price to pay for butterflies, but the next morning, on the other side of the steps, half a dozen of the same caterpillars had eaten most of my parsley.
A friend who teaches kindergarten and knows about caterpillars said the green and black ones feed on anything in the carrot family including dill, parsley and Queen Anne’s lace and they will become swallowtail butterflies. I put several caterpillars in three glass jars with holes punched in the lids and added a good supply of parsley and some short, strong sticks. When our twin granddaughters visited, I gave each of them a jar to take home and told them we are a lot like caterpillars, beautiful just as we are, but God has plans for us to become something far more beautiful like butterflies. They gave me their “Grandma, you are weird” look, but perhaps they will remember. I kept a third jar of caterpillars here at our house for our grandsons. Maybe I kept the third jar a little bit for myself, too. Two of the caterpillars made cocoons and the third and largest caterpillar looked as though it was seriously thinking about doing the same thing.
Watching those caterpillars I couldn't help but think about how they weren’t consciously trying to do anything at all. They were hungry and so they satisfied themselves with what they were supposed to eat which happened to be my dill and parsley. With no thought, they attached themselves to sticks and did what caterpillars were designed to do; they made cocoons. Eventually, caterpillars emerge from cocoons and, with no effort on their part they will have become butterflies; small testimonies to God's transforming grace.
Why do we so often think everything depends on us? Even in our churches it is usually the “Marthas” who run around doing big things for the Lord who get the applause. The faithful elderly who come early to pray before church are caterpillars quietly on their way to becoming butterflies and we seldom notice them at all. The rest of us seem to be so busy filling our time with committees and programs we have little time to spin cocoons of faith, love and prayer. Fr. Richard Rohr wrote,* “People are always trying to build temples and churches for God. And what is God trying to do? He is trying to build us into a temple, a temple of the Holy Spirit.”* We forget that it is God’s own good work to take all of our caterpillar moments and turn us into butterflies.
Rohr/Martos, “Old Testament: The Great Themes of Scripture” p.56
Thursday, August 11, 2011, 6:25 PM
It’s tempting to take the easy way out and just give the grandkids whatever they like to eat. We do this far too often. We’re looking for ways to make vegetables interesting and delicious. Kids will usually try anything once – so the first taste has to be pretty good. One winner has been pumpkin mixed with evaporated skim milk, egg whites, cinnamon and a little nutmeg and cloves. Bake mixture in custard cups in pan with water at 350 degrees till set in middle. Pumpkin pie without the crust. Yep, this is a vegetable.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011, 9:15 PM
Remember when a billion of anything used to mean something? Many years ago the word billion stood for a number larger than we could possibly imagine. Lately, billions of things have become so commonplace we can’t read a newspaper without stumbling over several billion of something.
Maybe common billions began October 12, 1999. That was the day earth’s population reached an estimated 6 billion. Or, could it have been in 2006 when the Congressional Budget Office estimated we were spending 6 billion dollars a month on the war in Iraq? Maybe it happened when we realized we could see 100 billion galaxies through the Hubble Space telescope or the moment we recognized computers perform billions of operations per second. We are told billions have been lost in the mortgage crisis. A billion just doesn’t go as far as it used to.
What does this mean for us? Collectively, we seem to have lost our sense of individuality. To be one of more than six billion people on a small planet circling a star in one of more than 100 billion galaxies makes whatever happens to us seem insignificant. Does it really matter if my back aches or my feet hurt? As one of billions among billions, it becomes more and more difficult for us to maintain a fantasy of ourselves as “masters of the universe.”
The problem isn’t that we can see so much. The real problem is that we can see so little. We see only 100 billion galaxies through a telescope and we can count only the six billion people in whose company we travel. We recover our sense of balance when we understand an unseen world accessed by love is far more significant than the world we can see.
In Isaiah chapter 49 God describes a love so tender for his children he inscribed their names on the palms of his hands. Fourteenth century mystic Julian of Norwich described a vision of all of creation held within a hazelnut. Though the hazelnut appeared to be of little importance, God revealed its tremendous significance. In Julian’s vision, because God had made and loved all of his creation, he would preserve it.
Jesus spoke of each of us in the same way. The parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep speak of a God of such love that where we see anonymous, meaningless billions, God sees each of us as precious, unique and irreplaceable. We begin to live with the same kind of vision when the love of God fills us. Instead of seeing faceless enemies, we begin to see children wounded by bombs, mothers and wives mourning the loss of sons and husbands. We see the faces and hearts of lonely neighbors, and parents struggling to feed families.
Too often we forget no matter what reality appears to be, matter isn’t the ultimate reality. This world is only a dim shadow of the world to come. While the world is covered in billions lost and found, the power of love uncovers what really is and what is yet to be.
Sunday, August 7, 2011, 10:35 PM
For the past (almost) 15 years my husband Jim and I have written a weekly column for "The Message" the weekly paper for the diocese of Evansville, IN. Since this is Sunday (a day of rest!!) the post below is one of those columns. It also appears in our book, "Grounded in God" a collection of columns published by Liguori Press.
The Nielsen Family
Some time ago we got a call at the dinner hour, which appears to be the preferred calling time for salespeople. Why they imagine I would buy anything from someone interrupting my dinner is beyond me. As soon as I heard a friendly voice mispronounce our name and ask how we were “this fine evening,” I braced for a pitch for storm windows, aluminum siding or even a cemetery plot.
Instead, this caller invited us to be a “Nielsen family” for one week. My heart skipped. An official organization finally wanted to know our opinion about what was being shown on television! I gladly accepted this opportunity to upgrade the quality of American life. I did fail to mention we have never bothered to get cable or a satellite dish, thus eliminating any votes for the Home Shopping Network, MTV, or HBO. I also left out the fact that Grandma has difficulty following the plot of many shows due to her very poor hearing. Mostly, we sit with her to watch “Antiques Roadshow” and “Wheel of Fortune,” both of which can be followed without actually hearing much of anything.
Within a week or so we received four journals, one for each television in the house. The Nielsen folks also enclosed a dollar bill as a token of their appreciation for our trouble. They suggested that we “might wish to use it to brighten the day of a child.” Since we owed our teenage daughter $40 we borrowed last weekend, we handed it over to her. (Sometimes it’s easier to borrow from a frugal teen than to drive to the ATM).
In the front of each of our journals we found 54 spaces to fill in all the channels we use. Three of our four sets have rabbit ears and one is hooked up to the only rooftop antenna left in the neighborhood. We listed seven channels, five of which are clear in good weather. We felt by the time the Nielsen Company realized with whom they were dealing, they would allot our journals to a special bin.
We are not consistent TV watchers. However, we did tune into one of those mindless sitcoms one day and then remembered our heavy responsibility as a Nielsen family. We quickly switched to a PBS program on Great Museums of the World. Being a Nielsen family gave us a sense of power and led to a discussion on how we might maximize our influence. If something particularly distasteful came on, we switched channels to an opposing show just to pump up the opposition’s ratings. We wondered if it counted if the TV was on with Grandma asleep in her chair in front of it. For that matter, did they have a category for shows all of us have slept through?
Our week as a Nielsen family ended far too soon and, once again, we counted ourselves among the powerless. A far more important question than what we watch on television is this: Are we passive bystanders in our lives of faith? As faith-filled people, are we a show worth watching?
Friday, August 5, 2011, 4:47 PM
In a few weeks our oldest son will head for his annual visit to “Burning Man” in the Nevada desert. Each year this experimental community of more than 40,000 people is created by the sons and daughters of our generation (the one that went to Woodstock more than forty years ago.) At the end of Burning Man’s week-long celebration of art, life and alternative culture a wooden figure on top of a large construction will be consumed in a giant bonfire. From our distant second-hand view, we think “Burning Man” keeps alive both the best and the worst of our own 60’s generation anything-goes lifestyle. It is exactly the kind of thing that has been keeping parents awake at night since the days of ancient Roman festivals.
Our son has always been a seeker. Now in his early forties, he works hard and lives a happy life, and so we were not very concerned a few years ago when he told us he wanted to join 40,000 people who think it is wonderful to camp out in 115 degree temperatures. In fact, we would be more concerned if he were not still asking the larger questions in life. Most of all, we were just happy he didn’t ask us to join him.
When the two disciples of John the Baptist followed Jesus, he turned and asked them, “What are you looking for?” When they asked, “Where are you staying?” Jesus invited them to “Come and see” and the community of believers began. I think of Christ’s question when I sit in community with the seekers who come to our weekly discussion group. Currently, we have eleven people including two high school boys as well as nine others from every age range. All of them are trying to find their own answer to the question, “What are you looking for?”
It has become acceptable to make snide remarks about religion, faith and spirituality on late night television. At the same time, people are becoming ever more desperate in their search for something that gives meaning to life. From street gangs in large cities to alumni groups at college football games, we all have a need to belong to something larger than ourselves. Often, a group that provides acceptance for the seeker and a strong belief in anything becomes a substitute for the acceptance and peace found in God’s grace and a life of joy based on faith.
We must continue to urge seekers to “Come and see.” We already have far too many people dying of thirst while they roam the desert.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011, 7:23 PM
One morning, at age 3 1/2, granddaughter Cate stood on the sofa while she held a piece of straw over the top of a table lamp. (The sofa was old and she knew we didn't care if she stood on it.) She declared she was roasting marshmallows and then announced that marshmallows come from pigs. She delivered this little-known bit of information with absolute certainty. Grandchildren fill in gaps in their knowledge with truth from their imaginations. They know extraordinary possibilities can be hiding in something as common as a table lamp.
Jesus said that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must become like little children. One of the defining traits of childhood is an insatiable curiosity. Between the ages of 3 and 5 children want to know the reason for everything from why do we have to brush our teeth to where does the sun go at night?
Unfortunately, by the time we reach the second half of life, much of our curiosity about how things work has been satisfied. Often we wrap ourselves in a good, solid cocoon of "been there, done that," and pay little attention to what is happening around us. Our spiritual life can begin to resemble the inside of our refrigerators. If we have plenty of milk, eggs, bread and cheese, why bother adding anything new?
The people we know who have kept their curiosity alive have a sense of youthfulness about them that we find attractive. They continue to read books, seek out new adventures, meet new friends, grow spiritually and see possibilities even when their future appears to hold little more than a short walk downhill. We forget their age because their zest for life makes them such good company.
So, how do we sustain the curiosity that keeps us growing regardless of age? Cate might have been right. Perhaps marshmallows have always come from pigs, willow trees can weep diamonds and people can fly if they open their eyes to great possibilities. Being open to seeing "something more" can turn the light of a common lamp into a life-giving campfire in the wilderness.
Saturday, July 30, 2011, 9:15 PM
After looking at paint chips for weeks, Jim and I finally painted our foyer yesterday. Unfortunately, the light green chip we had looked at for weeks actually turned out to be a bright robin’s egg blue. We’ll live with it for a while. In fact, we are beginning to like it. One thing we want our grandchildren to know is that no matter how carefully we plan, reality may turn out to be something far different than what we expected. With an open mind we might even discover that what we have is better than what we thought we wanted.
Friday, July 29, 2011, 2:10 PM
July 29, 2011
So. Now a 37 year old “grandmother” is a professional cheerleader. Good for her. What about the rest of us? The only cheering I want to do is for my granddaughters’ soccer games. I like sitting on the sidelines in a lawn chair and yelling how wonderful they are doing even if they are just standing there. A lot of us are way beyond 37 and we have been “cheerleaders” for a long time. We get paid in hugs.