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    The Crowded Life We Lead

    Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 8:34 PM [General]

    as i sit in the quiet of the morning on this cool morning, i feel a sense of tiredness, of being overwhelmed with the responsibilities of my two part-time jobs and my life at home.  deadlines of upcoming symphony concerts that i will be pushed to meet despite weeks of working to get everything done in advance to avoid the crush of too much work/too little time weigh on me.  the relentless demands of planning and preparing for church services constantly nag at me.  i am anxious because home responsibilities are being pushed aside in order to take care of these other demands on my time.
    as i ponder how to resolve these pressures, i realize that i must order my priorities, i must take care of my own mental and physical well being before i can take care of other matters.  i have let go of my habit of daily exercise, and much of my mental state has resulted from ignoring my physical needs.  the two are closely connected, and i am missing the joy of moving because i want to move.  a lingering sense of guilt has taken over; my inner critic is saying, "Shame on you! You should be doing this or that," and i've forgotten that exercise is something i do because i enjoy it, not because i "should" be doing it.
    here's my plan:  first, i'll spend less time at the ipad and the computer doing things that are not contributing to my enjoyment of life.  second, i'll put getting up and moving for the sheer fun of it at the top of my list of priorities for the day, along with meditation, because i can do both simultaneously.  third, i'll budget the time spent on taking care of the demands of my jobs, realizing that if it all doesn't get done, it's because others have failed to take care of their responsibilities in a timely fashion, thus delaying my ability to get my work done on time.  finally, i'll use the time i would have spent on the time-wasting electronic gadgets to help more around the house.
    simply setting down a plan makes me feel less stressed, and i realize that i've allowed myself to be swallowed up by the expectations of others, that i've replaced joyfully doing things with a guilt-motivated schedule that ignores my own most basic needs.  my prayer for myself and for you, if some of this sounds familiar to your situation, is that i am reminded frequently of how my intention affects my actions and that i take time to examine my view of what's truly important.

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    As with a Mother's Tender Hand

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 7:48 AM [General]

    were she still living, my mother would have celebrated her 94th birtday a few days ago.  she died of pancreatic cancer almost twenty years ago, but i had a vivid dream recently that she was still living, and when i awakened and recalled the dream, i was so grateful for it.  as i reflected on what i should write for my next post, memories of my mother were foremost in my mind, and i determined to describe her and some of what i learned from her.
    as if thought more, i began to wonder why my mother, my two grandmothers, and my mother's grandmother made such a great impression on me, while my father and grandfathers seem passing figures in my mind.  i wonder if other men have this same experience.  how universal is this reverence for the women who shaped us and this distance from the male family members that preceeded us?  maybe that's a subject for another post.
    one of my earliest recollections of my mother is from the time she was expecting my sister.  i recall vividly seeing her in the maternity outfits that women wore in the mid-1950s.  my parents had not discussed the impending birth of another child into our family with me.  i already had one sibling, a brother who is five years younger than me.  at the time my mother was carrying my sister, i was nine.  one evening as my parents returned home--i don't remember where they'd been--i ran from the house and grabbed my mother's hand.  i looked up at her and said, "you look like you're going to have a baby."  she chuckled and looked down at me, then she confimed that i was right.  this was the first time she had spoken to me at all about the coming birth of another child into our family.  to this day, i'm still somewhat angry that there was no discussion with me about this new addition to the family.  perhaps, my parents didn't bring it up because they didn't want to have to answers the questions a nine-year-old boy would have about the "facts of life."  i knew that, since i was the one to bring up the subject, that no questions should be asked, and so that was the end of any discussion about the matter.
    i remember how beautiful my mother looked to me that night and when i think of her, she is always beautiful.  i don't recall ever seeing her when her hair was not styled--she never looked as if she had just gotten up.  one of my treasures is a small framed picture of my mother and me when i was five.  it was taken by a professional photographer.  one of the features of my childhood was the periodic trip to see mrs. price, a photographer in a nearby town who took wonderful pictures of children, and my childhood was documented by a collection of pictures taken by mrs. price.  in the picture that is my favorite, only the torsos of my mother and me are visible.  i am snuggled up next to her, and my face has an expression of both delight and peace; it is easy to see that i was completely confident about my place in my mother's heart.  her expression is identical to mine, and, despite the difference in our ages, gender, and even hair color, we appear to be one unit rather than two distinct individuals.
    two other impressions of my mother that i must speak of is her gentle but consistent discipline and her voracious reading.  she was a very tolerant person, always permitting me to be my own person, never insisting that i conform to any preconceived notion of what she wanted me to be.  yet, she expected that i behave and learn when it was appropriate to be a rowdy, lively little boy and when it was appropriate to exercise self-control.  i don't remember her ever striking me, but a "stop that" was all i needed to know that my behavior was not acceptable, and the offending behavior immediately stopped.
    my mother worked hard at home.  we were prosperous enough to have a "cleaning woman" come in a couple of days each week, but even with that help, keeping our home running with two, later three, small children was a big job.  we didn't have a washer or dryer, and in those days there were no disposable diapers.  i remember huge pots of boiling water filled with cloth diapers sitting on the cook stove in our kitchen with my mother standing over them, pushing the diapers around with a large wooden spoon to make certain they were completely sterilized.  this was in the days before air conditioning was common, and meal preparation was a hot job.  Diaper sterilization was all but intolerable, especially in the summer.  Despite her arduous labors to keep the house clean, meals prepared, and clothes washed, my mother still found time to read book after book.  whenever she could find a quiet moment in her day, she had a book in her hand, and she instilled in me the joy of reading.
    one of the last things my mother said to me as she lay dying in the hospital was that she had only one regret in her life.  that was her failure to see so many of the world's wonders about which she had read.  i can still hear her tell me and my wife, "go when you have the chance.  see everything you can while you are able, because you never know when you will lose the opportunity."  this is a lesson we have taken to heart.  we spend much of our time either traveling or planning the next trip.  even when we can't afford it, we find the money somewhere and we go.
    my prayer this morning is that each of us has someone in our memory like my mother, one who is eternally beautiful, kind, and wise, one who is the embodiment of everything that is best about humanity, and that we take a few moments each day to honor and reverence that person by holding in our hearts a deep gratitude for how that person shaped our lives.

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    All the Things That Really Matter

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012, 7:48 AM [General]

    during the last several days, we've had a couple of catastrophes at our house.  first, a hand-painted lamp that i gave my wife for christmas over thrity years ago was knocked over, and the upper shade was shattered.  next, our son's little dog knocked over a brand new christmas gift and broke it.  the startling thing for me was that i felt little emotional upheaval at these two accidents, though i was sorry that both items had been broken.  perhaps, it is that advancing age causes me to put less stock in "things," but i believe that a subtle change has come in what i value.  as i relfect back on the damage that was done, i discover that in the grand scheme of things, these material objects, though valuable from a sentimental point-of-view, are transitory.  inevitably, these kinds of "treasures" are going to break, but we still have the memory of the whole object and the reasons that object was valuable to us, which has more to do with values that are seperate from the object itself.
    i remember when i was around twelve, my younger brother and i were helping our mother clean up the living room.  my brother, who was probably eight or nine, knocked over a plate and broke it.  i can still see the hurt in my mother's eyes at its loss.  she had few valuable pieces of home decor, and this plate was a beautiful family heirloom.  my heart still aches because of the hurt she felt at its loss, but her love for my brother was stronger than any love she had for the plate.  she didn't lash out at him in anger over his clumsiness, but simply sat and talked tearfully about the plate's origins, all the while hugging my distraught brother.
    people are always more important that material possessions.  the idea of a thing is always more valuable than the thing itself.  we rejoice in the pleasure a material object brings us, and when it is gone, we are reminded of the transitory nature of life.  all things change, and we must learn to value what is truly important.  my prayer for each of us this day is that we love life itself and share that love with others, remember that even life is transitory, and all too soon the life we are living will come to an end.  when it does, we will pass into another existence that will reflect what we valued most during the life we lost.

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    Be Thou Our Joy and Thou Our Rest.

    Tuesday, January 3, 2012, 8:58 AM [General]

    it is the time of taking down the christmas decorations in our home, and that always brings a certain sadness for me.  my wife loves to decorate for christmas, and our home is filled with garlands, wreaths, candles, and all sorts of christmas decor.  putting it all away is a chore, just as getting it all out is, and packing it up is a way for us to bring our lives back to "normal," to the every day routines that we follow during the rest of the year.
    during the christmas season, especially the week before and the week following christmas, those daily routines are set aside.  the regular weekly meetings and activities in which we are involved don't take place, preparing the traditional christmas meals and goodies takes up much of our time, and we focus on the big day of our family gathering when we eat together, play christmas games, and exchange gifts.  it is as if our usual day-to-day schedule is set aside and we live in a completely different world for those few days.
    with the coming of new year's day, we are jolted back to our regular responsibilities.  we begin playing catch-up, feverisly plunging back into taking care of those things that needed doing but were set aside for the christmas celebrations.  the packing-up of the christmas decorations that fill our home symbolizes that return to normalcy and the attendant obligations that are a part of that "normalcy."
    as i began my morning mediation/prayer time today, my mind was racing through the things that were needful: taking care of music for three upcoming symphony concerts, planning a month's-worth of music at church along with practice for the upcoming sunday, helping my wife with the "unhanging of the greens" around our house.  i sensed that God was saying to me, "all in good time--take your life one step at a time and offer each task as a joyful offering to Me.  it will all get done but not all at once."  with those thoughts in my heart, i realized that things would fall into place, my regular routine would return, i would look back on this christmas as a time of great joy when i stepped out of that regular routine for a time of festivity that brings the year to it's proper close, and fretting over how to get it all done was a waste of energy.
    my prayer for myself and you today is that we take time to stop and enjoy the sweetness of christmas and other festivals that take us from our normal lives for a brief time and that we return to those normal lives remembering the magic of those few days of celebration, easing back into our usual routines and responsibilities confident that each day is a gift that is pefect in its own way.

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    Great Creator, Still Creating, Teach Us What We Yet May Be

    Sunday, December 18, 2011, 8:13 AM [General]

    I have been sending the members of my family notes during each weekday in Advent, and last Friday I sent them a note about my most basic beliefs, those beliefs that form the basis by which I try to live.  Here's what I wrote about "my life":
    First, I'm not sure that "my life" is a realistic expression.  Life isn't about "me'" Life is, and if there is an "I," that "I" is a part of life.  I believe that there is a great Creator that is the source of everything that is and who is a part of everything that is.  I don't believe that this Creator is a puppet-master pulling the strings of each individual life, but rather that natural laws are in motion, and we are free to live in harmony with those natural laws or to interfere with them and live out of harmony with the Creative force that is inherent in everything.
    I believe that within all creation, a part of the God who created everything is present, that in each of our hearts, God resides.  Evil comes when we fail to listen to that of God that is within is.  I believe that all life is good; it is when we refuse to listen for the voice of Good within us that we become less good.
    I believe that we are part of Creation and have a responsibility to live so that the beauty of Creation is preserved.  Our highest calling is to serve and honor the creative force that brought everything into being, and because that Creator caused all things to be, we do reverence to the Creator by serving and honoring that which was created.  "Whoever would be great among you, must become a servant," is perhaps the most true thought one can ever have.
    In a few paragraphs, those are my most basic beliefs.  My prayer today is that I will live a life that is consistent with those beliefs, and that if you find some truth in them, that your life is also lived according to the truth you hold in your hearts.

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    O Christmas Tree

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 8:22 AM [General]

    One of my Christmas joys is decorating our Christmas tree.  My wife takes care of the other decoaring in the house, but the tree is my special contribution to the Christmas decor.  To be more precise, once I've hung the ornaments, my wife puts the finishing touch of placing a set of candy canes in just the right places to finish the tree off.  This year, our son helped with the tree, and that made my joy even more complete.
    As I stood in the kitchen a few days after we completed hanging the ornaments, I was looking into the den at our Christmas tree, thinking how it represents a lifetime of memories.  There are the elves that are like an elf that we have displayed elsewhere in the house that was MY elf when I was very small.  Most every ornament has some signficance, and as it's put on the tree, I recall that this one was from this trip or that trip, this one was given to us to remember one of our children's birth, one of the children made this one, these are the ones that we painted sitting at our kitchen table early in our married life, and so on.  How wonderful it is near the end of the year and during this hurried, harried, magical season to be reminded of what's important in life--the sharing of our lives with each other.
    I hope that each of us can find some time to look back on the many wonderful memories and experiences that we've shared with those we love most, these accumulated events that have made us who we are.  What a wonderful life we've been given!

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    I Am Jesus' Little Lamb

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011, 4:28 PM [General]

    a few days ago, i came across a statement attributed to john the baptizer in the third chapter of luke.  john is condemnng the religious elite and tells them that God is able to raise up sons of abraham from the stones on the ground, thus debunking their claims of special status because they are part of "God's chosen people."  upon investigating further, i found that matthew 3 contains this same incident.  reading this caused me to think about our western philosophy of the uniqueness of each person.  it seemed to me that john was suggesting that the idea that each person is "special," a soul created by God for a specific purpose, may not be how things really are.
    the recent vote on "personhood" in the neighboring state of mississippi ties into what john said in his stinging rebuke to the religious leaders of his time.  if we believe that God can create "sons of abraham" as john suggests, is each embryo that has the potential for development into a human life deserving of protection as an individual?  is the "self" that we talk so much about in our culture real?
    Jesus speaks of denying oneself, and we usually interpret that to mean that in doing so and taking up one's cross, we are to live a life of self-sacrifice.  could Jesus be suggesting something more than that?  are we part of a "collective self" that binds each of us inextricably together and links us to the God of creation?  perhaps it is our own vanity that causes us to imagine that each of us is an independent "self" with a special mission and purpose.
    i am not quite ready to abandon the belief in a "self" that is separate and unique, but i must ask myself the question of whether i am a "self" because i think i am such or is this "self" something i have created in my mind that doesn't exist in reality.  one day i will have an answer to that question, but it may not come in this life.  my prayer today is that each of will see our connection with those other "selves" that populate the world, will see that we could just have easily been one of those other "selves," and that our hearts are filled with joy and compassion for each "self" that struggles for understanding and compaasion.

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    Of All Mankind the Servant

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011, 4:25 PM [General]

    Here's one of my favorite quotes (from the Dalai Lama):  “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."  While sacred buildings and communities of like-minded people who are struggling with the same problems and questions are helpful as we try to figure why we're here and what we should be doing with our lives, I have to agree with the Dalai Lama's statement.  If our basic philosophy is to be kind to one another, even those who are not kind to us, we are fulfilling our mission in life.  For me, kindness is the embodiment of everything I believe.I hope that today, each of us will be treated with kindness, and that each of us will treat everyone we encounter with kindness.  If we slip up and react in anger or mean-spiritedness to someone who treats us badly, my prayer is that we'll forgive ourselves and them and resolve to return to "the philosophy of kindness."  Happy second Tuesday in Advent.

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    What Can I Give Him, Poor As I Am?

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011, 4:23 PM [General]

    for christians, this is the season of advent. yesterday as i prayed about how to find meaning in this advent season, i sensed a leading to do something for the members of my family each day during advent. perhaps it will be a small gift, a note, or kind action for my wife each day, and for my children i will send a note of encouragement each day. there may be days when i cannot follow through on my intentions, and i won't feel guilty if that is the case, but my desire is to give something extra of myself to those who are dearest to me throughout the season.

    in our church, as in many christian churches, we light a special candle in an advent wreath each sunday during advent and have a special liturgy around the lighting of that sunday's candle.  the first sunday in advent, the theme of the liturgy was "hope," so we say that we "light the candle of hope." during my time of prayer and meditation this morning, i focused on hope. in a sense hope removes us from the present and as such can be a means of ignoring the present. it that sense, hope is not a good thing. but hope is a word that conjures up positive thoughts for me. it directs my thinking toward positive transformation, toward a pattern of development that says that the next moment will be even better than the present one because the present moment is so precious, that life is moving in a direction where suffering and want are diminished by actions that grow from hope in a better world. 
    there is an archaic meaning for the word hope that is related to the concept of trust, as in "Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God" (from psalm 146). in that sense, hope takes on an even more positive meaning. when hope is united with trust, we have a sense that the present and future are one, and our efforts, though faltering, will move us and the world in the right direction so long as our focus is on the right kind of effort, effort that flows from compassion and loving-kindness.
    whether you are a christian, an adherent of some other religion, or a follower of no religion, my prayer during this special season is that despair gives way to hope, that hate gives way to love, and that indifference gives way to compassion.  may we seek transformation that brings us closer to the denial of our selfish attachments and the surrender of our lives to the well-being of others.

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    Dona Nobis Pacem

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011, 7:50 AM [General]

    in the united states, we are approaching thanksgiving day.  like most families here, we are planning a time with extended family, a part of which will be a huge feast shared by several generations of family members.  it will be a joyful time, as we celebrate with this large group, and it will be a stressful time of tolerating spoiled children and yelling parents.  after it's all over, we'll look back and complain about the stresses and recall fondly the opportunity of being with all those that we see all too infrequently.
    thanksgiving, at least for me, is a time of assessing the past year, and it's a time of reflecting on how my life has changed.  i try not to write about me so much in this blog, except about how the teachings of christianity and bhuddism can be applied to my life.  in this post, though, i want to write about the continuing transformation of my life as i study and contemplate those teachings, in keeping with the title of my blog.
    to that end, here is the list of ways i believe my life has been transformed over the past few months:i no longer have "bad" days.  sure, there are frustrations that arise, and there are days when nothing seems to go right, but at the end of those days, i still can give thanks that everything was as it should have been.i don't make "to do" lists.  if something is not important enough to remember, it's probably not really that important to start with.i don't have goals, other than to live each day trying to be mindful of what's and who's around me.i wake up each morning at whatever time my body tells me to (usually around 6:00) excited about spending at least 30 minutes in meditation and prayer.  this is, i guess, one of the greatest transformation in my life--to spend this time not as a duty but as an exciting opportunity.i constantly remind myself that every task can be a joyful offering to god, and, in this way, even tasks that would otherwise have been onerous become pleasant.i take things as they come, rather than becoming upset when my day doesn't work out as i had planned it.i'm not as focused on things (possessions), but rather am more concerned about people and ideas.i'm filled with joy and feel more at peace with myself and others.
    i don't feel especially virtuous, and i'm filled with doubts about whether i'm doing as much as i ought to make the world a better place.  despite my abandonment of establishing goals, making lists, developing action plans, forgetting about life missions and core values, i sense that my life is moving in the right directions.  guilt and duty have been replaced by the realization that i'm not perfect and that it's ok not to be perfect.  in short, life is good and getting better!
    my prayer today is that my transformation continues and that each of us is in the process of being transformed into the joyful, peaceful, caring person that we are intended to be.  shalom.

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