You pull me back from time to time. Tired and with a long to-do list, something compels me to return. The bread is gluten-free, which means I am not allergic to God here. I study random patterns in the gingerbread colored brickwork while meditating to advent hymns. My empty tank is filled when they light the peace candle. I buy beads to help the unhoused and accept a milkweed pod which may feed Monarchs on their way to Mexico next fall. A woman whispers, “I love your fairy hair” and I smile. We are all still young inside.
Philosopher William Irwin Thompson says that we humans are like flies creeping along the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We literally cannot see the splendor that surrounds us. As a result, we don’t live in reality. We’re lost in our habitual perceptions, blinded by our favorite illusions, and addicted to beliefs that hide the true nature of the universe. That’s the bad news, Libra. The good news is that every now and then, each of us slips into a grace period when it’s possible to experience at least some of the glory we’re normally cut off from. The veil opens, and previously undetected beauty appears. The weeks ahead will be the closest you’ve come to this breakthrough in a long time.
A perfect example of this shortsightedness has been my summer so far, my summer that is almost over: I have been so hyperfocused on the work list I need to do this summer for my other job and its heft and length, the unfairness of this, and the minutia required to either work at chunking off sections or avoid tackling it at all, that I have missed so many opportunities to enjoy simple splendors surrounding me.
I have been that fly crawling around on the Sistine chapel, unable to see anything except menopause webpages, files in black notebooks, and small avenues of temporary escape. So, starting today, I plan to back it up and take notice of the beauty around me at any given moment.
I am also reminded of some advice I recently read on a Pema Chodron link for dealing with uncomfortable situations or any human suffering or pain: change the way you see it and lean into it. At the time, I did not completely “get” what she was advising. The change your perspective part seemed too simple and the lean into it seemed obtuse. Now it makes sense. I have a few more days of work before I set out on what might be my last getaway of the summer. I am also reminded of a friend’s facebook post the other day that asked people to stop all the whining and complaining. She said:
There is too much negativity out there. Folks need to stop complaining and count their blessings, stop looking at everyone else and judging them, etc. Who is perfect? Be happy, peeps. AND, if you took a vacation this year… what do you have to complain about? Nothing. Nada. Smile already. Oh, and stop watching Fox News, yo. That was on at the gym this morning and all they did was spew more negativity, but the Today Show was highlighting the Olympics and I would have much rather watched that because that, my friends, is a positive. Positive begets positive. Add more happy to your life. Happy = GOOD!
Dawn is on point. This is my second vacation this summer. I have nothing to complain about. I am happy and that equals good.
Today, February 22, 2012, is George Washington’s supposed actual birthday, but this year, it is also the day that Ash Wednesday falls upon. Most years, since I was a young girl, I would go to church to receive the imposition of ashes, which means that ashes of palms from the previous Palm Sunday were used by the celebrant to make the sign of a cross on my forehead if I chose to come forward in the service and receive them.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent– a penitential season in the church of fasting and prayer used to prepare for the feast day of Easter which will come 46 days from Ash Wednesday. It is a liturgical season of self-denial or service. Persons of faith will generally deny themselves of something or take on something new as a burden to carry like Jesus carrying his own cross. The length of time that Lent lasts [minus the feast days or Sundays] recalls Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert prior to beginning his ministry when he was tempted by Satan according to Gospel accounts and it also corresponds to the 40 days Moses spent in the wilderness. Up until last year, I thought the season of Lent lasted 40 days and so when I counted, because I wanted to know how many more days before I could bite the head off a chocolate bunny, I realized there were really more than 40 days, since the Sundays are feast days and are not included.
Ash Wednesday itself reminds us of our own mortality. In fact, at the imposition of ashes, the priest or celebrant will say “you are dust and to dust you will return” at the moment he or she makes the sign of the cross on your forehead. In year’s past, this meant little to me. I did not think on death much, it seemed foreign and far away. After my grandparents began dying in 1997 and continued to die for the next 3 years one by one, until I had only one left, I found death crept into my consciousness a bit more. When Kenney was killed in 2008, death became a new reality in my life, and I sort of graduated to a new awareness of the brevity of life and understood with a visceral intensity how short my sojourn could possibly be. By the time it arrives, whenever it arrives, I am sure I will feel that my life simply flew by as might we all. So, while a reminder of my own mortality is no longer a necessary thing, it is a sobering admonition to make it count.
Usually, I give up something for Lent. Last year, it was sugar and white flour. Once I got going into it, it seemed like a ridiculously long time to give something like that up and it was difficult. I did not observe the feast days last year, however, and this year I do plan to observe them if needed. I chose giving up these two things because they are so bad for me on so many levels and because I am so addicted to them and have seemingly so little self-control on a daily basis where they are concerned. I plan to make some prayers I have for a specific person a focal point for this season’s penitence so that I will be more likely to stay on course.
I have enjoyed my tour of the chocolate holidays leading up to this day: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and I definitely made the most of them. In fact, knowing Lent was coming this year had me eating like I might be fattening up for slaughter. I was so saturated in King’s cake, pancakes, chocolate, and generally high carb food, that today was actually more of a welcome reprieve than an exercise in denial.
And so I am off to this place this evening, to remember that I am dust, and to dust I will return.
Today I went to see the movie Courageous. Before you read another word of this blog, let me say upfront, that this was one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen [and I’ll come back to the high praise in a moment]. This movie is another movie from megachurch Sherwood Baptist in Albany, GA– not to be confused with the God Hates Fags imbeciles at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Sherwood Baptist’s best known production so far has been Fireproof, the movie that helps men be better husbands and all people build a better marriage by following some biblical principles and some therapeutic & relationship common sense. I didn’t expect much when I first saw Fireproof, perennial skeptic that I am, I had some doubts about a movie with my little Growing Pains friend, Kirk Cameron, who seemed to have gone all Left Behind on me. I also typically eschew Christian-themed or produced narratives because I prefer not to be told what to think or to be hit over the head with messages I would like to be able to ferret out for myself on my own walk with Christ. But, I enjoyed Fireproof, and I thought, while it did have sort of a Lifetime movie feel to it, it also had a lot to contribute to marriage and relationships in general and it did so without making me gag or feel nauseous.
So, I had heard some buzz about Courageous, not at my church– I’m Episcopalian and we typically don’t receive encouragement toward mainstream Christian media, but in my community and among friends. I watched the preview and thought it looked like it could be powerful. And, powerful it was– powerful, engaging, humbling, gut-wrenching, and entertaining. It got 4 stars on what I call my smart phone rating. That is, whether or not I am tempted to look at my phone during a movie. Here is the scale:
- **** never glanced at my phone
- *** glanced a couple of times to check for calls or texts
- ** answered a text or two
- * passed time in the movie by checking my facebook, listening to voicemail, and texting
The movie begins with an action scene that pulls you right in and satisfies the adrenaline junkie’s needs; it does not let up by alternating drama, shameless tear-jerking scenes, and more action. Yes, sometimes, it felt a little Lifetime, movie-ish, and yes, sometimes it got a bit preachy, but the parts that enacted the message were emotive and well done enough to make up for the preachy parts. Yes, it presented some very traditional gender roles, but that did not interfere with the message or impact of Courageous. Every father should see this movie. Every parent should see this movie. I was sobbing audibly during a number of scenes. Anyone who has experienced loss of any kind, but especially loss through the abandonment of a parent, poor parenting, or the death of a loved one, will be moved to tears- male or female, no question. The movie exposes many contemporary issues, including the link between fatherless children and gangs and crime.
They work very diligently to present a cultural rainbow of characters and I think they tried not to typecast any race, gender, or ethnicity, but inevitably we do see some sadly predictable roles– the black criminals [although they do arrest some white boys one time], the poor, heavily accented hispanic man who needs work and must be helped along by a white police officer, and the all black gang members. However, the spirit of this film and alternately positive scripting and casting, kept this from interfering with my ability to enjoy the film or be moved it. The underlying message is of grave importance. Fathers are missing from the American family, some physically and some emotionally, some are present and abusive or neglectful, many, many are absent. The impact of this void is far-reaching has a tragic trickle-down effect. It is time for Fathers to step up.
If you know me well, you know my parents divorced when I was in high school. You would have to know me quite intimately however, to know that my father prior to that, though physically present, was emotionally absent and sometimes abusive. To say that I have “Daddy issues” would be a gross understatement. I have been working on them all of my adult life. I know the importance of a good Dad, I know the void, I know the impact. I know what it is like to fantasize about having the perfect Dad. The father I was born with and the attentive, loving, protective father I wished for live on different planets. I am still grieving for the fantasy one I never had.
Many men who feel they are good fathers may be moved to be better fathers after watching Courageous. I felt moved to be a better parent. I wish I had seen this movie about 25 years ago. I wish my Dad had seen this movie about 47 or 48 years ago. Kids are our most important resource and our greatest legacy; and contributing to their future productivity, happiness, and spirituality is our most crucial responsibility.
I went a lot of places during this movie. I thought of how I need to forgive my father and really let it go. I thought of Maya Angelou’s quote: “Do the best you can until you know better; and when you know better, do better.” People literally do what they know how to do, and people change and grow, and then they do better. This movie can identify the mark for how to be a present, engaged Dad who is also a teacher and a leader or for how to be a present, engaged parent no matter what kind of parent you had or what kind of loss you have experienced. See it. Let me know what you think.