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.”

Dyed not Dead

I begin this post on Good Friday: a day on which there was great deep despair, where hope was not present, even for many of the most devout. Surely the name was given to this historical day in hindsight because there wasn’t a whole lot of goodness happening on the actual day. In fact all that is wrong with the world: anger, cruelty, fear, jealousy, hate, inflicted itself upon pure, loving beauty, shunning the very core of Who we come from, what we were made for and how we were made to BE.

We KILLED someone who was here to save us from ourselves. Because that’s what we do.

Now, for those of you who know me, understand that I am really not the preachy sort. Mainly because I probably would have been one of the blind crowd followers shouting “crucify HIM!”. Or at least someone like Pilate who thought “Wow, let the poor dude go!” but then did nothing to show he meant it. I would have gone home in a bad mood, eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to cheer myself up and eventually, after a bit of hypocritical prayer or some rationalizing or maybe some act of random kindness, washed my hands of the guilt and moved on. I’d have not realized that my crap decision to do nothing to alter the course of events and save an innocent “man” would help bring about redemption from that very decision.

Think about THAT one for a few seconds.

Anyhoo. The day turned out to be GOOD because a couple days later death was overcome and we were given the option of hope, the option to believe that all is not lost despite our bad decisions and our lack of love when it is needed the most. We can choose to believe that death isn’t the grand finale but instead a new and different place of existence.

So. I KNOW I talk a lot about death in my blog posts. I suppose it might seem a little gloomy. But see, here’s the thing: death is just too mysterious, too interesting, too much of a constant aching tragedy in our lives, for me to not want to contemplate it from different angles and lenses and explore its possibilities

I joke a ton about my own death: a drama queen who leaps to the page to update her obituary any time I think “this time, I’m surely going to be a goner”. A bad cold, a wisdom tooth extraction, a forgetful day that makes me SURE that my mind will be done in soon and take my body with it, all draw me into making sure I say my props to my people and have the last word in who I thought I was in this life. It makes my family very uncomfortable. They probably won’t believe me when I actually DO die.

Which would be spectacular! I hope I won’t actually be DEAD but instead DYED. Like an Easter egg… only way different. I like the idea that passing away is a transformation that changes a person’s colors to the point that they are not as easily recognizable in their new and better (and more colorful) existence.

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Heaven: do we look up or out?

I don’t know about you, but I have had too many glimpses of my people who have passed away to believe the death is the end. I KNOW that while I can no longer touch or see my mother or my friend Libby as I once knew them,  they both stayed pretty close for a while before they moved deeper into their new joyful place. Once in a while they still visit.

They are colorful wind chimes singing without wind.

Jesus overcame what we thought to be the end and showed us what death could mean for us: new mysteriously singing colors.

If you close your eyes and let go, you can see the song.

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Jesus Eggs and Other God Mullings on Easter Sunday

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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