Ordinary Fear

Today is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, according to ‘Today’s Missal’ at church. There is something very soothing about calling time ordinary. I don’t know about you, but if a day is already labeled extraordinary before it has even happened, I’m probably not going to live up to it on account of the pressure. I tend to do the opposite of what is expected by me, especially when it is me doing the expecting. It’s like knowing I should be outside enjoying a beautiful sunny day when I am in a stay in the house rainy day kind of mood.

On this particularly ordinary Sunday I slept in but still rallied for Mass, dirty hair and all, because lately it has felt good to go. I have been enjoying the intellectual and emotional stimulation of church without expectations or demands with the understanding that an open heart and mind can allow surprising and simple treasures to sometimes land in my lap like that chewy, nourishing heaven bread landed in a desert of hungries.

Fears have been keeping me awake and unhappy lately, ones that seem insurmountable and singularly unique to me: career failure; money worries; having ‘all the cancers’ plus a touch alzheimer’s; not teaching my kids how to properly clean a toilet; and my annoying fifty something belly fat are a few of my current fears. I have felt a bit shameful about these fears believing that I MUST overcome them in order to be happy, but seeming to lack the faith and intellectual strength to do so. Consequently, I have grown them like big, fat inedible mushrooms, nourished in the dark recesses of my heart.

Okay, that’s a little melodramatic. My heart is mostly not dark. Ha!

The words “Action Conquers Fear” are written on my motivation wall from an article I read on LinkedIn called “11 Powerful Mantras for Those Who’ve Lost Motivation” by Ross Simmonds. So it feels like I should be DOING something about these fears.

But the visiting priest’s homily today landed a bit of inspiring and timely “ah-ha manna’’ in my lap that made me look at this mantra from a slightly different angle. In speaking about the last supper and the Eucharist, he mentioned the name of a scripture interpreter who’s name I can not recall, though I know she was a woman, and quoted this from her writing:   

“He prepares the table in the presence of my fears.”

I found myself having a little chat with Jesus:

Me: “Does this mean that I can enjoy the great dinner you made even though I have all these nasty fears?”

Jesus: “H. Bring all of you to the table. Your fears will continue to grow if you focus too much on conquering them. If you think having ‘all the cancers’ is bad, trying being a slave to a giant ugly mushroom. Now there’s a good horror movie idea!”

Me: “So I shouldn’t take action to kill the mushrooms? That doesn’t seem very Jesuit of you, especially you being the founder and all.”

Jesus: “You’re such a dork H, always trying to complicate things. The only action you need to take is to step up to the plate as you are every day and let yourself taste and savor what’s right in front of you. This is where the light is. And mushrooms don’t take kindly to light. It really is that simple.”

Me: “Sometimes you don’t realize you are starving until you get a taste of inspiration that has been missing from your plate for a bit. Thank you J.”

Jesus: “You’re welcome H. Now, go be in the light, with all your ordinary fear on this ordinary Sunday.”

Me: “Now I’m singing the song ‘Gravity’ by John Mayer.”

Jesus: “Ha! Whatever it takes to keep you where the Light is.”

When Things Get Hairy

The Sunday before my oldest son’s birthday we decide to meet him along with the rest of the kids after church at our favorite restaurant to celebrate. My husband asked me on the way to church, which I was attending for the first time in a very long while “You having the chicken fried steak?”

It’s what I always order when we go to this place for breakfast. It’s to die for: yummy goodness on a plate. I say “Hell no. That meal is ruined forever for me. Have you forgotten about that horrible day?” My stomach does a sickish little turn at the mere thought of chicken fried steak.

He looks at me with total amazement. “Are you kidding me? You’re letting one little incident ruin the best breakfast in Spokane?”

Now, if this were a flashback scene a survivor was having in a horror movie, you would hear the foreboding music that plays just before someone is about to be slashed with a machete by some creepy masked guy. The camera would first zoom in on a big, black hair that sat right on top of my gravy in perfect corkscrew form which made me feel CERTAIN it was a pubic hair. Then the camera would pan in on my face, horror in my glazed over eyes, lips thin and pale but stoically resolving to not scream. I wave my hand for the waitress who comes over quickly. “What can I get you love?”

“Could I have a double bloody Mary with extra olives?” I ask, trying to keep my eyes on her face and not look at the glaring abomination that has ruined my $14.95 breakfast.

“Sure thing honey!” and she trots off to get my drink.

My husband asks “Why didn’t you just tell her there is a hair on your food?”

“If I say something, then all they will do is take the plate back to the kitchen and take the hair off and maybe throw some more gravy on my plate, nuke it in the microwave and serve it right back to me. And that’s only if they feel BAD about the hair being there. If they think I’m a brat they will leave the hair and just cover it with gravy. And even if they did give me a new plate, I’d always wonder if they really had. No. The damage is done.”

“You have serious trust issues. Do you maybe need to see someone for this?”

“Look, I know that I probably eat plenty of other people’s hairs all the time without knowing it. But the emphasis for me is on the NOT KNOWING. Once I KNOW it’s just all over. See? So I understand that in reality this is not a big deal and if I were a mentally strong person I would pick the hair off and carry on with eating. But I am NOT strong in this category. No sense complaining about something that is my issue, unless of course the cook put that hair there on PURPOSE. But just thinking that would mean I am paranoid and just plain weird. So I am going to drink my breakfast and carry on. And YES I have guilt for wasting food. But that is a whole different issue.” The waitress brings me my new and improved breakfast and I raise it in a toast while my husband shrugs and digs into his food. He knows I am a lost cause.

Enter us, birthday breakfast day, into church. The prodigal daughter and her husband, the holy one who doesn’t let hairs get in the way of his enjoyment in life.

As I knelt down to try and pray, the hair incident stayed on my mind. Why did I so often let little things stop me from experiencing joy? I listened to the readings and then to the heartfelt homily from the priest who was new to our parish, or at least to me, the fallen one, and a swoosh of warm, delicious peace came over me. And as I returned to kneeling position in overwhelming, goose-bump awe after receiving communion, I realized I had I let my distaste for the previous priest, hold me back from witnessing a perfect place of Human/God connectivity.

Now keep in mind, I’m a convert to the Catholic faith and I have it in my mind that converts are looked upon by cradle Catholics in the same way people with new found riches are viewed by “old money” families: we simply don’t know how to use our riches properly and our ways of enjoying those riches are often frowned upon. But we newbies don’t really care. One example for me is that not going to Mass has never created a whole lot of guilt for me. I have always known, since I was a little girl that God wants us to WANT to hang out with Him, wherever we find ourselves. Going to church simply for fear of eternal damnation has always seemed counterproductive. Plus, no one wants to hang out with a friend who clearly would rather be somewhere else than with you. Right?

And this is the double edged loophole logic along with the excuse of disliking how another human spun HIS connectivity to God that I used to to stop attending mass for so long that I forgot how good it felt to go and got to a point that I no longer had the thirst to do so.

Funny the hell we can create for ourselves without any help from the devil. But grace is pretty bad ass and takes on all kinds of forms to open up our hearts. Sometimes in the shape of a yucky black hair on gravy.

Later at breakfast my husband raised one eyebrow when I ordered the chicken fried steak and a bloody mary with NO olives. On account of the fact that I was feeling pretty filled up.

Scenes from a 3-Day Easter Carnival

Friday:

We did not go to church but DID watch “The Passion of Christ” as we do every year. We were all pretty darn silent, for Siwinskis. Some of it had to do with having to read the words instead of hear them. But it’s a tough one to watch. Some of us had to cover our eyes during the scourging. Some of us dozed during parts of it. I hate that I always get sleepy during this movie. Maria mentioned the same thing. We related it to Peter in the garden who could not stay awake for his agonizing friend. I think sleep is a defense mechanism. As I write this I wonder if I would have been able to keep my Lenten vows for longer than 45 minutes had I watched this movie at the BEGINNING of Lent. Maria gave up Social Media and stuck to it.  She does not get her discipline from me.

Saturday:

There were only six of us to dye 5 dozen Easter eggs. Dillin and Duncan were both working. But the noise level was still high. Mitchel got in trouble fourteen times for being a spaz. David only twelve times. Everyone called me selfish because I wouldn’t share my brand new sharpies: 24 awesome colors. No! You people can not be nice to my sharpies. Use your dad’s. He loves you more.

Easter Vigil at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary lasted two hours and forty five minutes. I will fully admit to the world that I took a bathroom break to get away from the incense for a minute. Father Tom likes a LOT of incense and whipped that smoking metal container on a chain around like he was trying to lasso sinners.  I was NOT checking my social media from the bathroom stall. I would not do that. Nor would I take a sip from my purse flask. Incense just makes me cough. I needed to breathe some smokeless air. Seriously. My family wrongly accused me.

It’s just that there are soooo many saints to pray for us. And I am glad for this but do we really need to ask every single one of them to pray for us in one night? The readings for this holy night are thirty two pages long. 32. Every year we say “Wow! I don’t remember it ever being this long.” But its a history lesson, this night, all the way back to the beginning of creation. But this year it WAS longer than I remember. The readers really annunciated well. I never noticed the part about God creating sea monsters. So there is that.

We stood in the dark with our candles for an hour. It was beautiful and the music was luscious and rich with mystery and tradition (and smoke) but it was hard to pay complete attention because I was worried my three youngest boys were going to burn each other up. Or worse, their sister. Her hair caught on fire once in church. She’s okay though. It was a quick put out.

Duncan got off work early and showed for halftime. Grant didn’t notice he’d arrived for about ten minutes because he was taking a little halftime rest. He must have felt like he could relax once he found out Wisconsin beat Kentucky.

There were some new upbeat songs this year and the boys got the giggles. They can not help but bounce up and down to the rhythm and I sometimes wonder if we would fit in better at the church where there is a full band that rocks the house down and you can drink coffee during the whole thing.  But we are Catholics: me by choice the rest by birth. Will they stay strong in the traditions of their religion? I don’t know. But I DO pray their faith remains. This is what matters I think.

Easter Morning:

We are moving to a new place in time where the dogs were the ones to wake us instead of the kids. Daisy was doing her old dying dog cough; Duke was itchy, scratching and licking himself obnoxiously. They both needed to go out but we could not let them because Duke always eats the Easter eggs.

The Easter Bunny got very confused on the basket delivery. It turns out that Duncan always gets a yellow basket and orange is Daniel’s favorite color. Always has been. And David always has green and Mitchel always gets blue. Go figure.  I wonder if the Easter Bunny got in to my purse flask last night. But who can blame him (or her): It can be confusing with so many of them and cause the desire for a little sip every now and then.

When we finally go out, it is a race against time to pick up the dogs’ frantic stress poop before one of the focused egg searchers (there are now only three) steps in it. 59 eggs are found. We all think Dillin took one before he went to work this morning.

Now there will be Easter candy trading. Duncan will end up with most of the candy and then he will divvy it back out again. It’s more about the winning the negotiations for him.

Deviled eggs, asparagus for color (and later discussions about pee), and two spiral hams for dinner. We figure Dillin will eat one full ham by himself on account of the fact that he gave up meat for Lent.

How did my children become so strong willed?

I want to devour these moments with my people, my carnival people, like Maria is currently devouring all her long neglected social media accounts, like Dillin consumed much of the beef jerky from his Easter basket.

Instead I will try to savor them, chewing slowly, so that I taste every flavor, smell each scent. Even the incense. Even the dog poop. I want it to last.

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Jesus Eggs and Other God Mullings on Easter Sunday

eggs

The monotonous act of peeling three-dozen hard boiled Easter eggs this morning (to make deviled-eggs) made me wonder a couple of things:

What makes one egg peel easier than another? Why do some resist, chip by stubborn little chip, giving up their colorful shells while other eggs are stripped so easily down to their soft, vulnerable insides? Is it from their placement in the boiling water? Do mellow chickens lay easier to peel eggs than old haggard cranky hens? Do certain colors of dye alter the strength of the shell?

And which of these is the more favorable:  the easy to peel egg or the resistant egg? Are we talking about modest, hard to get eggs versus promiscuous eggs; tenacious versus yielding eggs; or thick-headed compared to open hearted eggs?

I REALIZE that eggs don’t have personalities. This is another garbled attempt at METAPHOR people.   

But why do we call them deviled-eggs? Maria said she thought we should call them Jesus eggs which sounds kind of crass, so I researched it and it seems the word “deviled” is an 18th century word referencing  food that is spicy or zesty. So I have to agree with her that we should call them Jesus eggs. First, He was always feeding people; second, He was able to spice up the mundane; though the devil probably takes more people to the dark side than is realized with his soft, subtle whispers that the mundane holds no value or joy.

And this made me ponder what a crap Catholic I sometimes am, especially during Lent. This year was by far the WORST EVER 40 days for me in terms of any kind of spiritual growth: I didn’t even PRETEND to be working toward holiness. I dug my heels in and worked on perfecting a few of the seven deadly sins.

And I didn’t go to church one time from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, which is no light sin my people…high heels in deep, thick mud, which is really bad for your shoes and other things.

I don’t really know why I fight so hard against spiritual conversion, especially during Lent. But here is a thought that I have been mulling over. The other day I witnessed a man on the streets. My guess was that he was in his mid-thirties. He wore groovy, kind of pimped up clothing: a plaid vest, leather coat, nicer jeans and a fedora. He had blonde hair, a smooth, shiny complexion and would have looked healthy were it not for his sunken mouth caused by lack of teeth. He was waiting for the walk sign to flash and was as high as a kite, blissfully grinning and stand-still dancing, flapping his arms around, the joyful buzz of whatever drug he was on making it hard to be contained in his skin.

Now, I know this is in poor taste (by stating that, it makes it at least look like I care) but I could not help but feel sort of envious of his current state of mind, even IF it was FALSE and chemically, illegally and HARMFULLY induced. Because while the after-crash was going to be total agony for him, he was for sure in current state of euphoria that in the moment did not contain an ounce of mundane.

While I am a no drug expert, I HAVE experienced some pretty amazing moments of elation. To name a few: the birth of my children; hearing a song that calls to my heart; closing a sale; writing something that says perfectly what I mean; and yes, the intense, knock me to my knees moments after receiving The Eucharist.  But to sustain these highs is impossible. We’d be exhausted. See? And it’s frustrating.

We for sure TRY to keep that high: some with drugs and alcohol, others with caffeine, sugar, exercise, sex and yes…spirituality. But all of these things we humans cling to as a means to feel GOOD inevitably end in a low, by comparison,  which is hard to take when you have been so high you can hardly be contained by your own skin.

There were saints to whom God gave these amazing visions and I can only imagine that it must have felt more euphoric than a thousand doses of any kind of drug.  No mundane in THAT kind of high. But the lack of God, or at least the lack of feeling or seeing God, which is an inevitable part of every human journey, had to be completely soul shattering for someone who has had more than just a glimpse of God. These saints, however, were able to sustain faith through what had to feel dreary and dull and dark, because DUH, they were saints.

I, however, am no saint. Nor am I a drug addict (which is good). I am a moody Christian who often lacks conviction when faced with monotony, which, let’s face it, is a pretty standard part of life for most of us. So, sometimes, especially during Lent, I pout, ignore God, eat Pringles and watch back to back episodes of “Hoarders: Buried Alive” until my ass hurts and say “Yeah? So what? Your point to all of this monotony would be WHAT? ”

But here’s the thing: God is a sneaky, conniving intervener and patient when it comes to peeling shells. And He uses people to help pull heels out of the mud: drug addicts, saints,  hoarders, teenagers who go to confession on their own and “feel less stressed out after” and little children who build churches at your feet out of Lincoln logs complete with a tabernacle and convince you to turn off the television, step away from the Pringles, put some shoes on and go to Easter Vigil, even if it’s just so there is less guilt and more time for the combat Easter egg hunt the next morning and Jesus eggs later… which by the way have never tasted so zesty.

Happy Easter everyone!

Risen