Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

The Post – Agony in the Garden: If Jesus Needed To Do It, Why Do I Think I Don’t?

April 30, 2008

I was just looking over the “blog stats” page on WordPress for my blog – they’re not elaborate statistics, mostly total page views per day, what pages were accessed, and the list of search terms some people used when they stumbled across my blog. Amazing to me are the number of people who are looking for fiddler crab information. I will have to keep that in mind and remember to pass on any new things I learn, for their benefit.

I also spotted an unusual search term: “the agony in the garden.” My mind flashed immediately to all those Good Friday services in church, reading the various Gospels describing Jesus waiting to be turned over to the soldiers before His crucifixion. One of the things that always caught my ear in those gospels was the number of times Jesus kept asking His disciples to stay up with Him, be with Him, pray with Him, and how He complained to them when they kept falling asleep. I think what always surprised me was that Jesus almost sounded….whiny…scared…..human.

All through the Gospels as Jesus traveled and preached, He sounded wise, patient, compassionate, forgiving, amused, even angry….together. But weak? Frightened? At the end of His rope? Needy? He sounded almost like ….us.

Now most of us can’t stand it when we or the people around us act like that, never mind Jesus. Our immediate reaction is more like “get a grip,” “grow up,” “stop whining,” or my usual comment around the house: “You got a backbone?! Then use it!” I have to admit, I almost felt uncomfortable with this Jesus. He wasn’t ….perfect.

Maybe that was the point. I think He wanted to show us that EVERYBODY has their moments of falling apart. Sure, we can’t go around whining to everybody all the time about every little thing. But you know, life can be hard. Sometimes it can really suck. And sometimes, even grown adults want “Mommy.” They want to whine, stamp their feet, have a good cry, complain that it’s not fair. And sometimes grown adults are just plain scared.

Now the Catch-22 is that they don’t want to admit it or EVER let anybody else see that side of them. Nobody wants another to know our “shadow” side….see those moments when we’re not together, when we mess up, or are just plain needy.

My favorite Stephen King anecdote is when he tells of driving somewhere while his wife read one of his manuscripts. He kept glancing over at her, anxiously awaiting her verdict, until finally she snapped at him, “Will you stop being so goddamned needy?!”

The reality is, there’s not a human being alive who doesn’t have their “locked in the bathroom, crying behind closed doors, convinced you’re a failure, needy moments.” I think Jesus was telling us to stop pretending we have it all together all the time, because we don’t. Even He didn’t. He knew what it was to be human, to freak out for a few moments convinced you aren’t up to the task before you.

The thing about it is, when the time came, He was up to the task. Jesus even had the presence of mind to heal the man whose ear Peter cut off, and to tell Peter to put away his sword. I think Jesus is letting us know, it’s okay to fall apart sometimes…in fact, it’s probably necessary now and then to just break down and cry. Feel your fear, acknowledge your anxiety. Maybe it’s even empowering. Once you have felt those, the only way is up. You get up, you wipe your eyes, brush yourself off, take a deep breath, and get back to being a grownup…get on with the task you thought you couldn’t do. Because you can.

So I guess the agony in the garden was that Gospel reading that gave me permission to “not always have it all together.” Just remember to get back up after you finish crying. If Jesus can have His moments, it’s okay for us too.

Advertisements

The Gift – Happy Easter!

March 23, 2008

img_0079.jpg

“Now after the sabbath, toward dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was an earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightening, and his raimant white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples…Lo, I have told you.’ So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy…”

(Matthew 28:1-8)

The Post – Good Friday…Last Book Chapter

March 21, 2008

It is Good Friday. A day for some reason, I have always loved. That, Lent, and Holy Thursday. Easter itself, I hate. It always seemed like such a noisy unnecessary thing after the sanctity of the soul’s connection to God on Thursday and Friday.

I loved growing up in Catholic school and going to Mass every morning. Six days a week while in grammar school, I was in Mass. Six days a week for 8 years, I listened to the stories of Jesus’s life. They were as real to me as my family, truly meaningful, and enjoyed as much as Nancy Drew. The readings that cycled every year, dictated by the seasons of the liturgical calendar were as much a part of my life and soul as the leaves changing color, skies staying steely gray, and the crisp cold that smelled of snow dictated by the changing seasons of New England.

Every year there was a constancy, a rhythm, something you could count on to return to. No matter what else happened in life – those were my touchstones. Raking leaves into piles you could jump into, short days and long nights, cold Halloweens with orange full moons in costumes bought at the discount store, my grandfather bringing pails of sand/salt mix home from the Town Garage, the rhythm of those happenings matched the Advent wreath candles and the church readings as we marched toward Christmas.

The anticipation of Christ’s birth matched the anxiety of waiting for Santa Claus. Midnight Mass in a candle-lit church, boughs of pine branches decorating the walls and door arches, being with all those old Slovak immigrants I knew so well, who built that church, even the way they filled the pews inside – old men on one side in the back, old women on the other side in the back, the younger families (unsegregated) in the rows in front of them – all those images and happenings was as much loved and needed by me, as going home to open presents. In looking back, I think actually, that those moments in the church surrounded by those people, those images, those sights, sounds, and smells, are what I remember more than going home and opening presents.

While the church images are crisp, the presents are kind of a fog. A few stand out: a Jon Gnagy art set, a microscope with dissecting kit, a map-making set, my Dick Tracy machine gun with Marine Corps helmet, canteen, and pistol, and in ironic contrast – soft warm new flannel pajamas, and a plastic carrying case with new pretty underwear each one labeled for a day of the week. Perhaps the ones that stand out in my memory are there because they connected with those parts of who I really am. …as to the days-of-the-week underwear…maybe that’s why I love planners???? 🙂 But the bottom line is that if I were told today that my memory was going and I could only retain certain memories and lose the rest, it is those memories of early weekday mornings in church, and holidays spent there, that I would choose.

So it is that same connection that continues to influence me throughout the rest of the year’s happenings and the rest of the year’s liturgical seasons. While I hate Easter – always HATED having to go buy a new dress and coat, then stand around like a china doll with an itchy crinolin slip, shiny shoes, straw hat and purse, and gloves (gloves – why wear something you always have to keep track of, in a season where it’s no longer cold enough to need them????), unable to run around with the boys in the backyard and have fun – I LOVED Lent, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday.

Lent itself was about focus, commitment, ritual and stories. You focused on something – the coming trauma Jesus would go through. You gave something up – allowance money, candy, gum, whatever, for something bigger than yourself. (Though in our house, you were allowed to indulge on Sundays) You did the ritual of the Stations of the Cross around the Church, every Friday and listened to the gospel readings. For both of those, it was about “story.” Each station was a painted picture on the wall that told a part of the story of the crucifixion. The gospel gave the whole story.

Holy Thursday nights were processions in church, long litanies recited in Latin by visiting priests, the smell of the hyacinths we carried as we marched, the sense of being together again in that place where everyone I knew was going to be, and…the stories. The story of the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, Jesus being taken to the Sanhedrin and to Pilate, Peter denying he knew Jesus. I loved the stories. They were like old friends.

Good Friday was a time to hear the whole long, VERY long gospel, so long that halfway through, the priest would stop reading, turn and kneel silently for a minute or two, then stand and finish the rest. It was a day when my mom would make us turn off the radios and TV and keep things “quiet” so you could honor what that day meant. It was a time when the church was stripped bare to symbolically represent the loss of Jesus, and to contemplate what that meant. It was a day to think about a story’s march through rising problems, crisis, and climax, with the relief and resolution Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday would bring.

So here it is today, Good Friday again. I was standing in the bathroom this morning talking to my husband about what I was going to get done today. I said that originally I was going to go to the gym and swim but that I canned that idea. I wanted this last chapter revision of my book finished today, no matter what. I said that it just felt like it needed to be today. He made a joke about it being like our son’s birth- our son was two weeks late, wouldn’t leave even when I started eating Mexican food, had to be induced, and during the last stages of labor I literally remember telling him to “Get out!”

I said, no it wasn’t about labor, but something about the fact it was Good Friday. And I wasn’t sure why. Just felt for some reason, the “season” of my book, needed to match the liturgical season of the day. I said, “I don’t know why but it just feels like this book NEEDS to be finished today, like today is the right day. So the hell with the gym, I’m just going down in the garage (where I work) and finish this damned thing today. At the end of today, I just want to be able to say that this draft is finished.”

Now, I’ll still have “polishing and cutting work to do in the next draft but that will now be a whole different process, almost fun. This draft, like draft # one, was like giving birth, like creating and writing from scratch. Now, I can “play.” The agony of the creating and writing from scratch phase will “be finished.”

As soon as the word “finished” tumbled out of my mouth, the lines from the Gospel of John flashed in my brain:

“After this, Jesus knowing that all was now finished, said, to fulfill the scripture, ‘I thirst.’ A bowl of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” (John 19:28-30)

So today is Good Friday, a day I have always loved, though I cannot tell you why, other than to say that always on Good Friday, something in my soul has felt complete. So today, I will honor the silent moments of the liturgical season, with the silence of completing my book. If it takes until midnight, I will finish today, so that the two stories shall meet in the single line: “It is finished.”

The Post – When You’re Mad, Give a Gift?

February 8, 2008

Yesterday morning’s reading for my online spirituality course with Thich Nhat Hanh was counter-intuitive to say the least. Some might read it and say “in your dreams.” Others might look at it and say, “That’s manipulative.” But I read it, and in spite of myself, I really did understand it. In fact, I’ve felt it happen now and then.

His words:

“There may be times when you are angry with someone, and you try everything you can to transform your anger, but nothing seems to work. In this case, the Buddha proposes that you give the other person a present. It sounds childish, but it is very effective. When we’re angry with someone, we want to hurt them. Giving them a present changes that into wanting to make them happy. So, when you are angry with someone, send him a present. After you have sent it, you will stop being angry with him. It’s very simple, and it always works.

Don’t wait until you get angry to go and buy the present. When you feel very grateful, when you feel you love him or her so much, then go and buy the present right away. But don’t send it; don’t give it to the other person yet. Keep it. You may have the luxury of having two or three presents stored secretly in your drawer. Later, when you feel angry, take one out and deliver it. It is very effective. The Buddha was very smart.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

Now at first thought, the idea of giving someone a gift when you want to throttle them, seems impossible, even laughable. Maybe something that blows up? But a real, honest-to-goodness gift? I don’t think so.

And the other person might think: “What’s this? You trying to make me feel guilty and manipulate me into liking you again? You’ve got hopes. Now I’m even angrier at you for pulling this!”

Yet, all skepticism aside, I know what he means and hard as it can be at that moment, it’s true. And it’s not childish. Child-like maybe. A big difference which I’ll mention below.

There have been times when I was angry with my husband and all sense of love and remembering “why I married him” evaporated into fantasies of how best to wring his neck. I’m sure he felt the same way. Revenge plots, not gift ideas, were the order of the day. Yet even in that moment there was that small voice that said “Do you love him?” And of course, the answer deep down was , “Yessss. I love him.” And the voice would answer, “Then if you love him, you cannot act that way.”

I’d remember that if something were to suddenly threaten him, I’d be right there by his side to protect or help him. I’d also remember the many good things shared, times his love saved me, the times things he did just melted my heart. The moment of capitulation would soon follow.

The moment of capitulation when trying to “hold your grudge” is the moment when you want to hate, but instead you remember and feel even a tiny inkling of your love. You feel frustrated with the Universe, for sure. My thoughts would run something like: “I really wanted my pound of flesh and instead, here’s the Universe deflating a good rage.” You feel the struggle of “But I’m mad at him,” versus “He’s my friend and I hate this. Can we just get back to being friends?”

The times that I’ve tried the counter-intuitive approach and gave in to the part that loves, it was like a crack in the dam of anger. By offering even just some tidbit of a compliment, or telling him something like “I’m really upset because I love you and I hate being at odds with you,” it was the thing that started to bring us both back to center. By refraining from revenge and instead remembering the love, by trusting to kindness instead of attacking, it made “space” for things to change. It became safe for both of us to leave our entrenched, polarized fortresses, hold up a flag of truce, meet in the middle, and discuss terms of surrender. And by the way, surrender is not “losing.” It’s “yielding” to a greater good. It’s the meeting of two to make something bigger and better than either one of us . . . or our egos.

I liked Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea to have a few gifts around, and to buy them when you are feeling those warm loving emotions for that person. The feelings will be stored in those gifts. When you take them out during anger, those objects release the good feelings back to you. What you stored in them – goodwill, love, the reminder that there are still good things between you – is like money in the bank you can withdraw at that moment. They are the tangible evidence that love existed, and they are the catalysts that start the process of softening the anger.

So perhaps it’s not so strange an idea after all, if you can just swallow the ego. I can see where it can bring things back from the brink. The gifts can be small – even a funny or loving card, just something that captures what is shared in the good moments. And it’s the lesson we can learn from kids.

If you watch kids play, one minute they’re fighting, two minutes later they’re friends again. Somebody picks up their marbles and runs home. A few minutes later they’re calling to ask if you can come over to play. Kids have the ability to live in the moment, not store up hostilities. They clear the air and move on. That’s probably what Thich Nhat Hanh meant by childish. I prefer the term “child-like” though. Childish can imply selfish, insensitive, immature. Child-like implies the best of being young – the ability to flow with things, to have an open mind, to be in the moment, to find awe in even the simplest things. Jesus said that we had to become like the little child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe He meant the same thing as Thich Nhat Hanh.

In any event, one thing I do concur with for sure: The gifts should be bought when happy. I’d hate to see what I’d come home with during rage. 🙂

The Post – Father, if Jesus exists, Then how come he never lived here

January 28, 2008

I had planned to write about the serious soul process that underlies the seemingly frivolous hours of fiddler crab watching – the quiet transformation of heart that yields the creation. However in moving the freezing car out of the driveway so my husband could leave for work, I caught a request from the Universe in the form of a song lyric, to share some thoughts about something else, so I decided to do the writing post tomorrow. For what I write here, these are simply my thoughts, how I make sense of things for me. No one else has to believe this, or agree with it.

I turned on the car and immediately the request blurted from the speakers. On the car’s CD player, Sting’s The Soul Cages; the song, “All This Time”; the words: “Father, if Jesus exists, Then how come he never lived here.”

I’ve spoken similar words SO many times in life, though mine were less eloquent and much more enraged. “Where ARE you? You don’t even care, do you? You did this to me. I did what you asked . . . I prayed. Every single day in Catholic school I went to Mass. Loved being there in that quiet with you. BELIEVED in you. In everything you said. And THIS is what you leave me in? How could you?” The rant usually ended with a 4-lettered action suggestion for God. And I meant it. There’s a saying – we give out as much pain as we feel. Truer words were never spoken, and I threw every last bit of it back at God.

Yet even as I did that, there was this small tiny place inside that knew He wouldn’t get mad at me for it – He was more like a gentle parent with an overwrought two-year-old. The child doesn’t understand. The parent knows it’s useless to explain because the child is too young. All the parent can do is hold the child while it cries in frustration and fatigue. Underneath my rage, I still felt a small voice saying He knew, He understood, He wished He could change it right that minute. For a moment it would comfort me, but then the rage would start again. “Great! So you feel bad I’m in pain. Why aren’t you fixing it?”

It was Buddhism that actually helped me understand that Catholic/Christian God I grew up with, forgive Him, let go of the rage, and learn to love and trust Him again. Buddhism has something called the Four Noble Truths. The very first one is short and sweet, but when I heard it, I felt such relief – Life is suffering.

Now at first read, that almost sounds depressing. If that’s the case, what’s the point? For me though, I heard that and almost immediately felt years of rage drain out of me. I realized . . . God didn’t do it. Suffering. That’s just the way life is. It is the result of living in a world where God doesn’t interfere and let’s us choose. It is the logical result of living in a natural world where sometimes there will be ecstasy and sometimes ultimate black despair. God honors His word to let us have the freedom to make our choices. He lets the world unfold in its natural way. He makes suggestions, but we don’t always listen. As a parent, I know how hard that is, watching from the sidelines while your kids choose something, crash, and choose again. And you want to tell them, but you can’t. So all you can do is suggest, then step back, watch, and stand by them no matter what.

If suffering is, then our role is to choose how we will respond. Either we take it and see what can we create with the hand life dealt us . . . or we give up and die. At least to me, that’s what it comes down to. What will I choose? Life? Or death?

So where is Jesus in all that? Right at my side. He stays there through it all, letting me be mean, letting me vent, lifting me when I can’t go on, whispering suggestions when I’m totally lost. It’s that Latin line: Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit – Bidden or unbidden, God is there. If anyone thinks that’s not very much of a gift, think about the last time you were with someone you loved when they were in tremendous suffering – illness, dying, life misery of some kind – and worst of all, you could only watch. You couldn’t help them. If that isn’t the ultimate suffering in life. Most normal people want to run the other way rather than stay with someone in pain. How many people go to visit someone who just lost a spouse or a child or are dying? It’s hard to watch that, sit with that, not run. Well, consider what it’s like to sit with an entire world of people in pain, support them endlessly, and NEVER leave, get impatient, or tell them off. That TRULY requires a God.

Now, all this said, it’s not to say there aren’t times I want to tell God to go to hell, that what He’s asking for is JUST TOO MUCH. So many times, even when I’ve agreed to do what He’s asked, it’ll come to a point of despair and being driven to my knees and all I can say is ‘I thought I could do this for you but I can’t. Take it away. Please. I just can’t do this anymore.” And the quiet voice just says – try again.

It’s like that parable (Luke 5:1-11) of the apostles spending all night fishing and coming up empty. Exhausted, frustrated, despairing, they return to shore. Jesus is waiting for them. Does He comfort them? Commiserate with them? Put an arm around their shoulders? No. He tells them, go back out and put your nets out. I wouldn’t have blamed the apostles if one of them told Jesus to go pound sand. I mean they worked themselves to the bone all night and all Jesus can say is “Go do it again”??? And if that wasn’t enough, He still didn’t make it easy for them. In spite of whatever they thought, they went back out and did what He asked. Now yes, their nets were filled to the breaking point. Well, great. So yeah, He gave them lots of fish. But still He made it hard. I mean, why didn’t He make it so the fish nets were filled and the fish jumped in the boat or they got tons of fish and God magically transported them to the beach so the exhausted guys didn’t have to kill themselves hauling them all in?

Because…that’s life. God doesn’t change the rules of the world. He helps us work with them, sustain, try again, look for solutions, even when we want to quit. But we still have to do the work.

So. I guess my answer to Sting’s lyric is – He does live here. I don’t always feel Him in the middle of the despair and rages. These days at least, I’ve learned that sooner or later, I will feel Him there and to just trust in the meantime that He is there. All I can suggest is do what the Buddhists say, or that line from Tom Hanks’ movie, Castaway – just keep breathing. Just keep walking. Just keep going. See what you can create with the hand you’ve been dealt. Choose life. Death comes fast enough.