Monday, December 30, 2013

2013's Blogging Gifts

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The following is a look back on thoughts from “What if …God Never Hurries” from April through December’s 2013 blogs:

Share time, talent and treasure; know your and other’s unconditional worth; be kind and tolerant; suspend judgment of self and others; listen; dialogue respectfully; allow everyone a voice; employ reason, cooperation and coordination; find a good coach; be a good coach; learn teamwork; stay in the game.

Nature heals; keep your eye on the big blue ball we live on; live simply and sustainably; everything is connected; strength and order flow from the interdependency of diverse communities; be curious; question; trust your mind, heart and gut; all that lives is holy; equal opportunity and adequate resources for everyone benefits us all; freedom workers everywhere deserve deep gratitude; share what difficulty taught us for the good of all; forgiveness transforms; understand complicity.

Suspend anxiety for things undone and the need to be perfect or right; look around and know all is good; use the written language with power and creativity; combine gentleness and strength; heal one another through laughter and tears; trust what comes, comes because it needs to; celebrate what doesn’t get done--enjoy the present; laugh and smile daily; let go of feeling too responsible; hold the questions with infinite patience; find joy and new ideas in the accomplishment of others; there is always a choice versus the victim role; be not afraid; remember serenity, take sanctuary time (rest, breadth and going within); return to being faithful without incrimination; pray daily, “What do I need to let go of today?  What do I need to embrace?”

Admire cheeky courage; affirm courage with a smile and, “You are very brave;” the voice of God within sings for peace not war, love not hate, and acceptance not rejection of the other and creates deep bonds; befriend both light and darkness—let pain be pain and mystery be mystery; silence feeds abuse; oppression hurts everyone; suffering brings deep meaning to the surface; be present to whatever is; honor pain and let it grow us into more caring people; while sitting with pain, breathing and praying eventually reveals the next step toward growth; pain brings awareness of Compassion dwelling within us--creativity flows from compassion, be part of a healing community; presence equals Presence.

Common people do have common sense; empower one another; work tirelessly for a more just world; we have the freedom to be wrong; humility is a gift from our mistakes; we are all evolving; evolution is about randomness, differences and change; we need good paternal and maternal instincts to help us; asking the right questions is critical when seeking truth; the capacity for reflection transformed us into the human species; we can guide the process of evolution to take us where we want to go; pause and reflect; getting upset is so unproductive; how I react to what I bump into determines my progress or decline; catch someone doing something right and praise him or her; smile more; cooperate in small groups using consensus; every student, regardless of age, needs to have a vote in major decisions affecting them; human nature goes beyond self-interest; the idea that self-interest promotes the common good is profoundly wrong; respect and highlight diversity; search for ways to end global poverty; we each play a role in evolution; ask “What do I need to keep me more balanced?” And above all, trust in the slow work of God.      

What if we are all called, and none of us is worthy, and it is all about forgiveness? 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter Solstice

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A turning point—the sun at its lowest in the south as it shines upon our earth.  A time when darkness and light are equal in that day—balanced.  Many cultures see Solstice as a time of rebirth.  So when I attended this December’s Full Moon Circle, a gathering of women who look to each other for their place and purpose in the world, we were each asked to share what we wanted to manifest for ourselves in the coming year.  It wasn’t immediately apparent to me.  Needed change often isn’t.  So I asked myself, “What would make me more balance?”  The need to play more became apparent.  It wasn’t hard to figure out where to start.

My yellow lab Ben and I headed out the next day on a relatively mild winter afternoon.  My goal was Lake Michigan’s shore.  Since Ben and I both have mobility issues now, I debated with myself--should I drive to the town to the north where the walk to the lake was easy; or take the more challenging route across an open field, over a wetland dam, and then down into a steep, narrow valley that opens to the lake?  I knew deep joy would be in the valley.  I rationalized that after the more difficult access, I could give Ben a pain pill when we got home.  Just my decision to go the valley route gave me a shot of euphoria.

As we walked across the snow covered field I figured the return back to the car would be easier when the northeast wind would be at our backs.  Ben was euphoric and ran ahead.  In my mind’s eye I saw the four-month old puppy that would bounce down this field and remembered the three-hour summer walk we took here while I seriously wondered if I could keep him because his energy and mischief were so extreme.  (That was a very short ten years ago.)  The six-inch snow cover now obscured the path descending into the valley.  When I eventually found it I broke out in a broad smile.  Carefully, I picked my way down the steep snow covered slope; grateful for the help from my walking stick and the one who made it for me with the carved inscription, “Life is good.”  The calm quiet warmth in the valley seemed womblike and almost brought tears to my eyes.  Returning to this once so familiar landscape was like being greeted by old friends—the winding path and creek, high banks, cedars, and deep silence.  Eventually we reached the beach where a hard cold wind met us, along with three young boys who Ben joyously greeted.  Ben then had a coughing fit hacking up some phlegm.  When the boys looked concerned I said, “He’s just and old guy.” 

Back home I did give Ben a pain pill.  Amazingly, my knee felt even better than when we started the balancing fun walk to the beach.

What if we each asked ourselves periodically, “What do I need to keep me more balanced?”                 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Potential in Vacant Lots and Us

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Applying evolutionary theory on the ground to improve David Sloan Wilson’s city of Binghamton, NY got its start by realizing the potential in the city’s many vacant lots.  A Design Your Own Park competition was created and facilitated by Wilson and a group of his graduate students.  Criteria for participating in the competition required design input from all age groups within the immediate vicinity of each lot; each neighborhood group then developed a system to resolve conflicts; design decisions were made by consensus; a contract was drawn to assure sufficient volunteer help to spread workloads; and after a park was constructed there needed to be on-going interaction among neighbors to help the city with maintenance.  Design Your Own Park was a brilliant start to raise the valleys that appeared on the Geographical Information System map generated by a previous survey asking thousand of Binghamton’s public school children to anonymously rate themselves on their social sensitivity to serving, respecting, and helping others in their community.  (See my November 11, 2013 blog titled Who’s in Your Neighborhood?)  The competition tapped into the creative power of small group interactions; it created an outdoor space that everyone could enjoy; and environment is suspected to be a more significant indicator of behavior over genetics. 

Even though environment may trump genetics, genetics still play a significant role in our lives from affecting how we respond to medication, what we should and shouldn’t eat, and even how we get along with others and make our way in the world.  Wilson states understanding our differences become “part of the knowledge that’s required to know how to operate and fix ourselves.”  Knowing that someone’s aberrant behavior can be genetically based caused my heart to open and fill with compassion.

The following quotes will give you some insight into this good man who wants us to guide the evolutionary process so it takes us where we want to go.  “People are spiritual, or have soul, to the extent that they are searching for meaning in a way that will lead to a better life for all not just themselves.”  “The idea that self-interest promotes the common good is profoundly wrong…”  “If we are not making decisions on behalf of the common good, then we will be generating conflict, neglect, and decay…” David Sloan Wilson’s Evos continues to work with many interdisciplinary professionals researching solutions to make this a better world for us all.

I wanted to read Wilson’s book for I felt certain it would confirm what I convey in my memoir, “God Never Hurries,” telling of my significant struggles and the deep abiding comfort I found in the natural world, along with the help I needed from others to refuse the victim role and find my voice.  Nature did and does heal me.  After my husband’s suicide in 1975 I began filling my house with plants for they are signs of life.  Many of them have aged in place with me and still bring solace.  And in the 1990s, as I struggled for my mother’s care as she descended in Alzheimer’s disease, long walks with a Shepherd-Husky named Bear steeped me in the beauty and comfort of the natural world and kept me sane.  And often, it would only take another’s kind voice, note, or knowing smile to lift me up and keep me going.  I am grateful  for the help that directed and sustained my own evolution.

What if we all understood the role we play in each other’s evolutionary process? 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Looking with Evolutionary Eyes

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I have been looking at events of this past week with an eye toward evolution.  There was my ten-year-old granddaughter’s holiday program where I saw her class on an evolutionary timeline and wondered what positive outcomes and challenges lay ahead of them.  I noted a sprinkling of ethnic diversity in her class and also children differently able both physically and emotionally.  I recalled the NPR program I heard earlier that day that featured Paul Salopek who has embarked on a seven year project to walk around the world on a route that would have been traveled by our pre-agrarian hunter-gatherer ancestors.  Salopek said his slow paced foot travels is giving him a heightened presence to people, their significant problems, and to the landscapes he is encountering.  I wondered if the ease my grandchildren have with electronics, and which allows us all to accomplish so much more in much less time, also contributes to what I see as hurry sickness that leads us to be less present to what matters.  And I let myself get rattled as I was beginning to back out of my parking space at the Post Office, and another driver darted into the parking area, laid on his horn, and then shot past me to make a sharp right into an adjoining parking space.  I thought of David Sloan Wilson’s depiction of the less than social water striders and felt like I had just bumped into one.  And I attended the funeral of a Caucasian family friend, a kind and gentle man whose children intermarried and gave him beautiful grand children mixed with Black heritage, another with Hispanic heritage.  And then there was Nelson Mandela’s death this past week and his beautiful legacy of forgiveness—true liberation, and his deep concern for continuing widespread poverty throughout the world.  Looking with evolutionary eyes has seemed to facilitate reflection and that is a good thing.

We are so very young as a species.  Our hunter-gatherer ancestors began leaving Africa 60,000 years ago.  (The age of our earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old.)  Agriculture began 10,000 years ago and the first cities appeared only 6,000 years ago.  Wilson tells us in his book, “The Neighborhood Project--Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time,” that human nature does go beyond self-interest, and that reason needs to be the basis of our actions.  To that end an interdisciplinary effort to look at how nature regulates, and apply that regulation to economics, became the focus of a conference titled the “Nature of Regulation. “  The conference brought together highly respected individuals from animal behavior, anthropology, business, cognitive psychology, economics, ecology, evolutionary psychology, finance, history, law, neurobiology, peace studies, political science, prevention science, social-insect biology, sociology, and theoretical biology to consider the following:

-       Rethink the theory of human regulatory systems from the ground up.
-       Learn from other biological systems about the nature of regulation.
-       Reach a consensus on what constitutes human nature.
-       Appreciate the importance of environmental mismatch.
-       Take cultural evolution seriously.

What if we all looked with evolutionary eyes that go beyond self-interest; eyes that respect and highlight diversity, and search for ways to end global poverty.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Transformational People

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According to evolutionary scientist, David Sloan Wilson, the most effective way to promote positive change in another is to catch someone doing something right and praise him or her.  Since evolution is a response to the environment, creating a more positive environment through praise engenders within us the desire to strive for more improvement.  Even smiles were proven to redirect behavior over frowns. Studies show that students who were praised for their hard work worked harder than those praised for their intelligence. (Ironically, praising intelligence stunted growth for the drive to take on harder tasks was diminished.)  This past week I was privileged to experience an off-handed compliment and did become aware of my desire to do even better. 

Evolutionary scientists, prevention scientists, behavioral scientists and social scientists are just beginning to interact among themselves.  Those interactions will lead to more right questioning which will eventually help us move in more positive directions.  A master’s thesis done on preventing young children from running into the street showed praise and small tangible rewards were much more effective than reprimanding which made the problem worse.  A good behavior game, created by students coming to consensus on what good behavior is, easily became the culture of the group.  Wilson states, “We are designed as a species to cooperate in small groups that are coordinated and policed by norms established by consensus.” 

Wilson says,  “Our current educational system dumbfounds our instincts…” Learning needs to be less structured and more spontaneous since we learn easiest when at play.  We need to highlight differences, not try to eliminate them.  We need to accommodate differing reactivity by assessing and placing each child in an environment where they can thrive.  Classes of mixed age groups were found to foster a spirit of nurturance instead of competition resulting in less bullying and where slower students don’t stand out.  And every student, regardless of age, needs to have a vote in all major decisions.  All of the above makes me recall Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer titled, “Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God.”

I am over three quarters of the way into Wilson’s book, “The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City One block at a Time,” and was surprised to first learn now that he is an atheist.  His support of praise, diversity and everyone having a voice sounds like a little bit of heaven to me.

What if each day we challenged our self to catch someone doing something right, praising him or her, and smiling more?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Siren and Flashing Lights

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I pulled over to the curb to let the speeding police car go by as I was on my way to the dog park with my yellow lab Ben. But instead of whizzing on by, the flashing lights pulled up behind me.  Truly puzzled I asked the officer, “What’s the problem?”  He told me my license plates are expired.  I told him that can’t be because I always take care of that kind of thing as soon as I get the notice.  To which he responded sarcastically, “I wouldn’t be pulling you over if I hadn’t verified with Madison that your plates are indeed expired.”

As I waited in the car for the officer to return with my citation I remembered a note I wrote to myself after a previous unpleasant experience.  My note said, “Getting upset is so unproductive.”  I don’t always remember that wise conclusion, but bumping into the law the other day actually became a blessing for it caused me to pause and reflect on the fact that I have been too narrowly focused of late.  Loosing my vehicle registration form in a mess of papers was the proof along with other things I have let slide.  

Lately I have been bent on finishing David Sloan Wilson’s book “The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City One Block at a Time.”  After I found my registration form and wrote the check, I picked up the phone and called the library to extend the due date on Wilson’s book.  It was so easy to do and relieved me of much unnecessary stress.  It makes me wonder how much else I could let go of, or extend till a later date.  Ironically the siren and flashing lights verified what I am reading.  Life is a pinball machine and how I react to what I bump into determines my progress or decline.  The ability to reflect on my experiences is the vital spark that transforms, and being flexible in how I respond determines my success or failure.  And ultimately I see I am still in process—learning to trust more and remembering that all good things can and do take time.   

Thank God for Ben for he always makes sure I get out EVERYDAY.  Which reminds me we are way overdue for a good long off leash trek somewhere.

What if we could always stop and reflect when bumping into unpleasantness?                     

Monday, November 18, 2013

So Who Are We?

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David Sloan Wilson shares some of Teilhard de Chardin’s (1881 – 1955) ideas on how we have come to be who we currently are.  Even though the Catholic Church forbid this priest, paleontologist and mystic from publishing his work, friends did so after his death.  David Sloan Wilson writes, “For Teilhard, the vital spark that transformed us from a mere species to a new evolutionary process is the capacity for reflection…the power acquired by a consciousness to turn in upon itself, to take possession of itself as an object endowed with its own particular consistency and value…to know oneself…to know that one knows. …  For Teilhard, there had to be an atmosphere of trust for reflection to get started in the first place.” 

Wilson attributes modern dysfunctional social life to a lack of trust in one another—think bitter political disputes for which the only goal is to beat one’s opponent.  He states, “Left unattended, cultural evolution will take us where we don’t want to go.”  Small groups, with trustworthy social partners are seen as essential to counteract dysfunction.  He uses the metaphor of the human immune system for it is profoundly cooperative requiring a team of agents performing different functions that are in constant communication with one another.  Alternatively, a dysfunctional immune system eventually destroys its host.  He says what’s needed is a meaning system that respects factual knowledge as scientists and scholars do, and then use that knowledge to implement values.  To sustain a functional social life we must listen, reflect and give meaning to our goals.

One of the factual studies Wilson cites is of a transformational first grade teacher who taught school for thirty-four years in a poor neighborhood.  As her former students became adults they were measured for grade of education completed, occupational attainment, and condition of their home.  Sixty-four percent of her students scored in the highest category, compared with only 29 percent for students of the other teachers.  When the other teachers were asked how this first grade teacher taught they said with a lot of love by expressing confidence in her children, vowing that no child would leave her class without being able to read, staying after school to help struggling children, and sharing her lunch with students who forgot theirs.   Sloan says gardeners would understand these stunning results since they “…know that a small difference in how the seedlings are tended can make a huge difference in their yield at the end of the season.”

Looking back over my 70 years I can see how small groups of people helped me evolve and overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  But I believe my greatest assist came when I reflected and wrote each evening for three years as I struggled with my aging parents care needs.  And Teilhard was definitely with me during that difficult time for when life got especially tough I would stumble across his prayer, “Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God.”

What if we all belonged to a trusted small helping group and reflected each day on our struggles?  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Who's in Your Neighborhood?

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Using science, technology and evolutionary theory, David Sloan Wilson listens to and reflects on his city of Binghamton, NY. His reflections lead him to ask the right questions and to develop a survey for which he enlisted the help of an enthusiastic school superintendent who is interested in helping children become healthy, productive adults. This allowed Wilson to survey thousands of public school students. He asked them to rate themselves anonymously on a scale of 1 (this doesn’t describe me at all) to 5 (this describes me exactly) with the following statements:

I think it is important to help other people.
I resolve conflicts without anyone getting hurt.
I tell the truth even when it is not easy.
I am helping make my community a better place.
I am trying to help solve social problems.
I am developing respect for other people.
I am sensitive to the needs and feelings of others.
I am serving others in the community.

Wondering if students would honestly describe themselves on the survey, Wilson did a GIS (Geographical Information System) map of the city. He rated such things as Halloween and Christmas decorations and activities; he left ‘lost’ stamped letters lying in neighborhoods seeing which ones were subsequently put in the mail; he took photographs of different neighborhoods and noted garage sales. Social games were played with the school children who took the survey with game titles such as Dictator, Ultimatum and Prisoner’s Dilemma. The web of causation connecting survey results, holiday decorations/activities, lost letters returned, photographs of neighborhoods, and social game results all correlated.

Reflecting back on my own life has led me to know how critical it was to ask the right questions to change the direction of my life, even leaving the church of my birth. Wilson states: “The eternal conflict between benefitting oneself and benefitting one’s group, which suffuses religion and literature, also suffuses the biological world.” But he also notes, “Religious believers aren’t just exhorted to obey the dictates of their faith; they are locked into a system that makes it difficult to do otherwise. In just the same way scientists and scholars are locked into a system that makes it difficult not to seek the truth.” They question.

I shall continue reading “The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City One Block at a Time.”

What if we all learned the right questions to ask that lead us to become more healthy and productive citizens?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Life in a Pinball Machine

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As I am reading David Sloan Wilson’s book, “The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time,” I find it useful to have 70 years behind me.  Initially I did not like Wilson comparing life, his and all life, to the randomness of a metal pinball bouncing into or off of something else.  But the more I thought about it the more I understood and even liked his metaphor.  I see how it fits with his definition that evolution is about randomness, differences and change.

Looking back over my life I understand how my actions, and the actions of many others had the pinball effect, changing the direction of my life.  It ends the idea of control.  It shines a light on the wise counsel to accept whatever is as a foregone conclusion while also defining the starting point for change and growth.  It all sounds so simple now.  It wasn’t.  But I am still here.

I am early into Wilson's book.  He is setting the stage for what is to come through story.  First there is the story of the paternalistic George F. Johnson, a shoemaker from humble roots who cared for his employees through good wages and working conditions, providing health care, and starting a savings account for every child born to an employee.  He gave the community parks, recreational facilities, and carousels for the children.  I saw in Johnson’s story the difference between the patriarchal versus the caring paternal.  It also reminded me that I really want to see Robert Reich’s (former U.S. Labor Secretary) movie “Inequality for All.”  Then Wilson tells the story of the remarkable water strider’s adaptation to walk on water, but their less than successful group interactions’, compared to the highly successful interactions of wasp colonies. 

The author really wants us to understand his profession as a scientist and evolutionary biologist.  He writes, “I rankle at the way science is understood by the general public, especially when it is portrayed as a sacred body of knowledge presided over by a priestly caste.”  And we are back in the pinball machine again with his statement:  “Every movement made by an organism is based on a physical environmental input, which initiates a physical chain of events inside the organism, which results in the physical movement of the organism—its behavioral output.”  I look forward to reading more about how we adapt, change and grow.

What if we all bumped into the more paternal and maternal among us more often? 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Who's Driving?

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Most American women are driving.  But news broadcasts this past week reminded us that not all women in the world have permission to drive an automobile.  There are some who are now defying that prohibition (see CNN Saudi women driving).  It made me recall that my late mother-in-law and sister-in-law never drove a car, and that I was in my mid twenties and about to have my second child before I first got my driver’s license.  Oh my how I have evolved!

I am remembering too, a couple of weeks ago, a church official was on the news denouncing the recent ordination of a woman as a Catholic priest. He conceded that it would be hard for American women, living in a democracy, to understand why women cannot be priests.  We sure must know different Gods, because mine is totally democratic.  But wait, that’s right, they still wanted to keep nuns in the habit.

Public radio recently featured David Sloan Wilson and his book, “The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City One Block at a Time.”  He was on Krista Tippett’s program “On Being.”  I just picked up his book and am anxious to get into it.  Wilson is a distinguished evolutionary biologist and anthropologist.  He focused his biology and anthropology skills on improving the quality of human life in his hometown of Binghamton, New York using Darwin’s theories.  I suspect his practical implications for improving interactions between humans and their environment could be applied beyond the scope of a city, like maybe to how killing female babies in some cultures will later result in a lack of women to become wives and procreate, or how prohibiting progeny in a hierarchy could weaken it or cause its extinction, or how inhibiting the growth of others ultimately affects the health of us all.  Will see.  Stay tuned.  I just started reading his book. 

What if we all became excellent drivers?  What if we all focused on ways to apply the laws of nature to improving our lives?  I know Teilhard de Chardin would approve.                

Monday, October 21, 2013

God's Other Half

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The following is from one of Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation daily meditations: “The soul does not need answers, it just wants meaning, and then it can live.  Surprisingly, suffering itself often brings deep meaning to the surface...”

A desire to share the deep meaning brought to the surface as I struggled with my aging parents’ care needs is why I wrote “God Never Hurries,” in addition to wanting always to remember the many unique gifts I experienced during that painful time.  Soulful treks to the beach, with my buddy Bear (dog is god spelled backwards), showed me that in my churches mystical body, I really had no voice.  Then one night at choir practice, while listening to the men’s voices contrast with us women, and seeing each of us as unique, totally loved by God, and sharing our voices, let me know the importance of everyone having a voice.  And all this was helping me understand my complicity through silence in my father’s abuse.  I became keenly aware of my struggle with assertiveness and my need for voice.  I had no answers, but my soul was coming alive with meaning.

As my soul found meaning I saw how I needed to change.  Slowly, painfully, I learned to find my voice, refuse the victim role, and saw that I could no longer be “the good girl” who does what everyone else expects.  It was tough, scary work but so worth the eventual growth, freedom and understanding of what it means to be true to one’s self.  Encountering the word obdurate (hardhearted, unyielding, stubborn, obstinate) while reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes book, “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” was my first hint that I could change no one but myself.  Estes wrote:  “In ‘being good,’ a woman closes her eyes to everything obdurate, distorted, or damaging around her, and just tries to ‘live with it.’  Her attempts to accept this abnormal state further injured her wild instincts to react, point out, change, make impact on what is not right, what is not just.”

Fast forward to today.  Death eventually ended my struggle with my aging parents’ care needs. I left the church of my birth, now over ten years ago, because the struggle with my father paralleled my struggle with my church.  My hand would no longer let me write another check to an organization so discriminatory.  (I now gratefully pursue an ecumenical path.)  And although I know it is true I can change no one but myself, there is a part of me that wonders, is that enough?  I caught a few words from a speaker on public radio last week who said anyone has the right to believe anything they want to believe, but no one has the right to act upon those beliefs if they hurt others.  Oppression of women (or anyone) in the name of religion is so systemic that I think many are unaware of it.  It leaves half of God out of the blending of male and female voices and that hurts everyone.

What if we all thought about that for a while? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Nature is...

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I attended a Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Spiritual World of Nature program this past week where we were invited to briefly share what nature means to us.  I said, “Nature is where God talks and I listen.”  After speaking those words I began to appreciate again the gifts accompanying the suffering that led me into the natural world where I found a unique solace and answers to many of life’s toughest questions. I am grateful for having recorded the comfort and insights I experienced in my memoir “God Never Hurries.”  Now I can remember and relive them, and share with others.

Nature is—where the morning sun beamed through the trees and whispered, “Be not afraid;” where I came to know a caring Presence to whom I belong; it is celebrating freedom at dusk that was like a trip to the moon on gossamer wings; it is a magnificent, warm, soul soaking rain; it is a huge oak tree where I sometimes took my troubles and always parted with a sense of communion and strength; it is a blue moonlit snow drift where I played with my late son Joe and dog Lydia; it is a bright, fall, moonlit night that called me outside to write one night; it is the smell of wood smoke in my sweatshirt and the rustle of dry leaves in dark trees above that gave me respite from my troubles; it is a curious deer that encouraged my curiosity and later another deer that showed me all is Eucharist; it is tall gray herons wading in a thick gray blanket of fog that let me sense the seamlessness of the world’s soul; it is a sunlit fog that showed the church of my birth in a rusting old car buried upside down on the beach; it is water running under a milky cascade of ice on the bluff that sounded like a happy, vibrant church where everyone has a voice; and peddling my bike past a swamp, where I heard frogs talking, I was reminded to talk more and share myself with others.  I could go on and on but I think you can understand why I listen when God talks.    

A common theme from others who shared what nature meant for them at last week’s program was a sense of balance and centering.  And then our competent instructor led us to see how the interdependency of diverse natural communities is the source of their strength and order. 

We too are a part of the natural world.  Could valuing the interdependency of our diverse human communities lead us to strength and order?  What if we all prayed toward that end?         

Monday, October 7, 2013

Recycling Pain

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This past week I have been pondering on how this mysterious God of ours, who somehow lives within each one of us, can grow us through suffering.  It brought me to see God as the Ultimate Recycler taking heartbreak, shame, guilt, rejection, abuse, fear, anger, abandonment, or whatever, you can fill in the blank, and use it for our transformation.  This, however, is not an automatic, quick, one-sided process.  It does require our full participation, awareness, patience, trust, and work.  

It seems the very first step in the recycling process is learning to sit with the discomfort, letting pain be pain and mystery be mystery, and trust good will come from it.  And while sitting with my pain, I have found breathing and praying eventually reveals the next step needed toward growth. 

I would have never volunteered to be widowed at age 33, with three young children, but it did bring me to know a capable woman who could provide for her children, could learn to balance a check book, maintain a house, yard and car, and lead me to develop talents I didn’t know I was capable of performing in the world of work.  I would have never opted to lose my youngest son at age 21 to mental illness but it did make me more aware, compassionate, and less judgmental of others.  I would have never chosen abuse and Alzheimer’s disease in my parents but it taught me to see God in all things, to know I was worthy of good self-care, to look for my complicity in any trouble, find my voice, and lead me to know true forgiveness and reconciliation.

Teilhard de Chardin wrote: “…it is the law of all progress that is made by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time.”  What if we could all trust the Divine recycling process?