Category Archives: Contemplative
Listening is Not Agreeing –
Late last week someone said something about me and that I didn’t agree. At first, the emotion was to respond, defend myself, dig in my heels, push back against the criticism. It wasn’t something overwhelmingly harsh but it did rub me the wrong way.
Instead of responding right away I sat with it for a bit and reflected on it. Oftentimes critiques are met with resistance. We want to defend ourselves. However, if we are too quick to jump our own defense we might miss something constructive. There’s an old wisdom saying; “Both criticism and compliments should be taken with the same weight.” Receiving compliments and praise can be easier but they have a way of pumping up our ego and sense of self. Criticisms, if held on to, can create bitterness, rivalry, and ruptured relationships.
One of the greatest disciplines of contemplative listening is found in the truth; “Listening is not agreeing.” When someone speaks to us a compliment or criticism we do not have to own it, take it inside of us, let it mingle with our minds, emotions, and spirits. We can examine it, turn it over in our minds and, if we have self-awareness, can decide if it is meant for us, to grow, to learn, to let it become a part of us. Perhaps its simply another’s opinion and through insight and stillness, we discover that we can let it go. It’s not for us.
“The mark of a wise mind is the ability to hold a thought in our heads
and not necessarily believe it to be true.” #Aristotle
Your Last Moment –
Last night me, Beth and some friends gathered around a fire and roasted wieners, shared how are weeks were going and then rushed inside when it started raining. There wasn’t anything earth-shattering about the evening but that’s what made it special.
Too often, while living in the present moment, our minds are busy thinking about the moments to come or the moments that have gone by. We are rarely present mentally, emotionally, spiritually, in the present moment.
To treat each moment as if it is our last is a difficult discipline but it starts with the understanding that the present moment is truly the only one available to us. The moments which have come and gone are no longer accessible to us. We cannot relive or change them. The moments which are ahead are unpredictable and not within our power to get to until they become the present moment.
This is why the present moment is so special and powerful. It is in this moment where life and all its possibilities and wonder exist. We miss it so often but if we can embrace it, cherish it, drain each ounce of precious promise out of it our lives will be enriched beyond our wildest dreams.
We have a beautiful Banana tree in front of our house. It is ten feet tall with as many leaves and several smaller Banana trees growing around it. Unfortunately last night a sudden thunderstorm with strong winds knocked it over and snapped the trunk of the tallest tree. We are going to have to cut almost 5 feet of the tree off and hope it will survive. Beth and I both are disappointed at the mishap. We’ve spent years feeding, watering and taking care of the Banana tree.
It was a painful reminder of the transience of life. There is nothing permanent, nothing which can withstand the storms of life forever. Everything and everyone has a breaking point. One of the most difficult wisdom lessons we can learn is holding things and people loosely. This seems like an easy concept to grasp. We are surrounded by constant reminders of how quickly life changes. What once was is not anymore. Years pass by in the blink of an eye. Adjusting to a new “normal” is an almost everyday occurrence.
“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.”
-W. Somerset Maugham
Last Time –
This weekend I was speaking with a friend about his roof. It has a leak and he and his wife have decided that they are going to replace the whole roof instead of just trying to fix the leak. “This is the last time I’ll have to put a new roof on the house,” he said. I knew what he meant. My friend is 20 years or so older than me and a new roof might outlast him. His recognition of this gave me a glimpse into a level of self-awareness this man had reached. As we get older, the wiser among us accept the truth that life’s clock is winding down.
Wisdom teachers place the lesson of death at the center of most disciplines. Accepting the shortness of life is the beginning of wisdom. It is the understanding that our lives are a mere number of days of which we are unaware of. Today, tomorrow, whenever, death comes for all. It is not morbid to reflect upon our mortality. It should bring humility and thankfulness. We are humbled by the uncontrollability of it all and are thankful for one more day, moment, breath.
In Line –
This afternoon, on my way into town, I was in a line of traffic. About three cars in front of me a young man, hand out the window, smoking a cigarette, and in a hurry. He was “riding the bumper” of the car in front of him in spite of their being numerous cars in front of the object of his fury. I watched him and wondered; “Why? Why are you being an aggressive, desperate driver, when there are more cars in your way? Are you going to tailgate every car until you get in front of them all?” I knew the answer was probably; “yes if he could.”
I reflected on this man and the way our focus of life can be out of whack. When we go through a challenge, a difficult situation, we focus our intensity on the object in front of us. We blame it for our lack of peace and purpose. We think; “If I could just get this off my to-do list, remove that problem, rid myself of this habit, break off or begin this relationship, everything would get better.” The truth, however, is more poignant. If we do not have peace before we run into a challenge, overcoming it will not bring us peace. If there is no stillness inside prior to a relationship there will be none afterward. New job, friends, home, whatever, cannot bring us the sense of calm and wisdom we desire if we don’t acquire them deep inside by searching for them now.
“The only peace and wisdom you find at the top of the mountain you are climbing are what you bring with you” -Wisdom Proverb
I had a friend who used to tell me she felt guilty for falling asleep when praying her nightly prayers. “God must be so disappointed in me! I can’t even stay awake to say goodnight to him.” I knew her heart was full of love and a desire to please God. I listened and then I asked her a question; “What do you think God would like more? To hear you say; ‘Goodnight.’ or for you to fall asleep in his arms?'” She smiled and understood that oftentimes we make our relationship with God more complicated than it should be.
The contemplative way tells us that when we are chopping wood, it is with God. When we eat a meal, it is with God. When sitting quietly, it is with God. All things we do can be with an awareness that God isn’t impressed with our showmanship, rules and regulations, dogma and definitions. God longs for us to realize where we are; he is and our awareness of his presence, our understanding he desires to be with us is the meeting of every need we have now and forever.
Space Between –
Today has been a day of waiting. A weather front moved into our area on Friday and it has been raining off and on for three days.
Outside the living room window is our front porch with a tin roof. There is no mistake rain is falling when listening to one of the best songs ever. On a cool, cloudy, rainy day a tin roof is a nap maker, guaranteed.
Although the sound of raindrops on the tin is beautiful we also have a dog who lets us know when he’s ready to go outside. We try to wait for a lull in the melody but sometimes we force him and ourselves outside.
I have a friend who’s in a place where they’d rather not be. They are trapped and wanting a way out. However, there has been no indication its time. It is a season of waiting, a space between being unable to move and desiring very much to do so.
Living in the space between can be frustrating and maddening. Wisdom teaches us that existing in the time between the seasons, the challenge and the overcoming, the obstacle and the crossing over it, the sickness and renewed health, isn’t easy but can produce in us growth and maturation.
It is the seed planted in the ground which grows not the one carried with us.
When I was a student at Trevecca Nazarene University one of the classes I took was a spiritual formation class. On the first day, the teacher of the class lit a candle and told us it represented the presence of the Holy Spirit, alive, moving and not be captured or coerced. He lit the candle at every class. For some, it was probably hokey but for me, it was my first step into Contemplative Christianity which eventually led me to become a Benedictine Oblate (http://www.osb.org/obl/intro.html).
Another discipline we would learn and one I still do to this day is praying Psalm 46:10; “Be Still and Know I am God.” We would sit quietly and begin by quoting the entire verse and then let a word(s) drop off after saying each phrase multiple times…
“Be Still and Know I am God
Be Still and Know I am
Be Still and Know
When we arrived at; “Be” it was understood we found ourselves, our true selves, only in God. God wasn’t number one, he was the only one and everything else found its place in Him.
I follow this rhythmic prayer, often praying; “Be Still.” many times between rising in the morning and going to bed at night. It focuses, settles and comforts me or rather the words open my spirit and remind me I am because God allows me to be.
Last night I buzzed the tower at the County Jail to let them know I was there for our Dad’s class. They unlocked the several doors I have to go through to get to the classroom. I stopped about half way, opened my travel box and retrieved the list of names for the evening’s class.
I walked up the stairs to the tower where several men were sitting on one side of the octagonal room. As I handed the list to the corrections office in charge I turned to the men and asked; “how are you guys doing?” “Good,’ came the reply; ‘but there aren’t just men here.'” I looked around and on the other side of the room, sitting by herself was a woman corrections officer. I apologized for not noticing her and she accepted. If it wasn’t for the male officer I never would’ve noticed the woman.
I was talking with a friend this week who said he believed God had shown him his presence in a special way. I responded that I think God regularly shows himself to us; “We’re just too occupied, unaware to notice.” The conversation came back to me last night when I was unaware of the woman officer.
The Bible speaks of “serving angels unaware.” I wonder how many times we miss God’s presence, a stranger’s need, a chance to show grace, kindness, and love to a world which to see and experience it.
to Listen –
Today I unloaded on someone. It wasn’t in an angry way but therapeutically. I talked about all that’s been happening in my life and in the lives of the people I know and care about. It was almost an hour of pouring out my heart into her listening ear. She asked a few questions but mostly let me vent about things that I’m worried about, some of which I can take some kind of action but mostly things in which I need to accept the situation and my powerlessness over it.
At the end of our conversation, she didn’t tell me what to do or not do. She didn’t give me a list of positive affirmations or ways to avoid the situations. She listened and that’s what I needed her to do. After we finished I said; “Goodbye” and went home. Yet, somehow, I felt better, lighter, more stable in a chaotic season of life. Her listening ear was most welcome.
Many times we think of listening as the pause between what we want to say to the person who’s talking. To truly listen is not planning our next comeback, advice giving, compliment or criticism, it is having an open ear and sensing the moment as sacred. We receive the words with reverence and speak as if we are on Holy Ground.
The Disease of Busyness –
Yesterday I attended a webinar on the importance of silence in the discipline of mindfulness. The two speakers, both doctors of psychology, wrote their thesis on the; “the silence in between” the notes in music. These pauses in between are just as important as the notes which are being played.
Too often we construct our lives with what we think makes us successful or at least look the part. We craft an existence that has no place for silence. We believe busyness is a sign of importance. Eugene Peterson says; “Busyness is the disease of our time.”
When there is no place for silence, reflection, taking the time to breathe in quiet and breathe out the noise which pollutes our lives we die on the inside, in the deepest parts of our being where only silence can fill.
The Little Things –
Beth and I finally, after two years and some change, finished moving the rest of our stuff from South Carolina to Tennessee this weekend. It’s odd when you find, see stuff you forgot you owned. It takes a while to remember owning it, what it was used for, and, at least for me, the reoccurring thought; “If we haven’t used it for 2+ years maybe we don’t need it.” I asked that question multiple times this weekend and there was always an answer from the Mrs. as to how and why we still needed it.
Sometimes in life we look at stuff we don’t use regularly and ask; “Do I truly need this?” This applies to tangible items, but also to relationships, emotional baggage, spiritual disciplines, and more. We are tempted to think because some aren’t a regular part of our life it is they which must be lacking in importance.
However, if we allow it, wisdom will teach us that the little things, what we often forget or don’t have a prominent place in our lives, are usually what we need and would benefit us the most.
This morning our organization had a Father/Child reading event at the local library. It was a good time, a great turnout and we were able to meet dads we’ve never met before and some we hadn’t seen in a while.
We try to make these events as entertaining as possible with crafts, a puppet show, brunch items and more. The entire focus of the event is to stress the importance of fathers reading to their children. We talk about why this is important for the child and the parents and give the dads some alternative ideas to reading a book that also helps build a child’s’ vocabulary.
My favorite part of the event, however, isn’t the puppets or craft time but when the dads and kids go pick out a book and read it together. It’s the image of the child sitting next to the dad or in his lap and he’s whispering in their ear any words they may not know, need help enunciating, or pointing out interesting items in the pictures on the page.
For me, it is the picture of how God wants to treat his children. Life is difficult and demanding. There’s always something to do and the busyness of this world keeps us spinning. Wisdom tells us that silence, simplicity, humility and obedience are our ways of crawling into our Father’s laps, sliding up next to him, feeling him wrap an arm around us and whisper in our ears, our spirits, letting us know that though the story of our lives can be complicated and convoluted, he’s present and close as the tale of our existence unfolds.
About the Journey –
As a Benedictine Oblate (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblate), I receive a monthly newsletter from the Archabbey I was adopted into; Saint Meinrad’s (http://www.saintmeinrad.org/). Last night I read the newsletter for February. The newsletter’s chosen subject was stability and faithfulness. Included in it was a story; “The Worn Path,” by EudoraWelty.
The story is below but the point of it is missed by most. When Eudora Welty was asked if the grandmother was able to save her grandson with the medicine, she replied; “It doesn’t make any difference if the grandson is alive or dead because the story is about the journey.” She went on to say that it is the force of the grandmother’s will and her willingness to face danger, hardship, setbacks and the longest of odds to journey to and from the doctor to procure the prescription. Her fidelity, faithfulness, and stability to see it through to the end no matter the outcome.
In our world getting what we want, when we want it, without waiting or struggling to achieve any real meaning in our lives is because there is no journey to travel, no roads to wander, no paths to navigate.
Too often we miss the point of living. It’s not arriving that makes it worth doing. It’s how we get to the end and beyond.
If you have the time, read the “The Worn Path” below. Reflect on it and be sure you’re in it for the journey.
It was December—a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her. This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.
She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but every time she took a step she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes. She looked straight ahead. Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden color ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under the dark. Under the red rag her hair came down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black, and with an odor like copper.
Now and then there was a quivering in the thicket. Old Phoenix said, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!. . . Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites…. Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way.” Under her small black-freckled hand her cane, limber as a buggy whip, would switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things.
On she went. The woods were deep and still. The sun made the pine needles almost too bright to look at, up where the wind rocked. The cones dropped as light as feathers. Down in the hollow was the mourning dove—it was not too late for him.
The path ran up a hill. “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far,” she said, in the voice of argument old people keep to use with themselves. “Something always take a hold of me on this hill— pleads I should stay.”
After she got to the top she turned and gave a full, severe look behind her where she had come. “Up through pines,” she said at length. “Now down through oaks.”
Her eyes opened their widest, and she started down gently. But before she got to the bottom of the hill a bush caught her dress.
Her fingers were busy and intent, but her skirts were full and long, so that before she could pull them free in one place they were caught in another. It was not possible to allow the dress to tear. “I in the thorny bush,” she said. “Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir. Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush.”
Finally, trembling all over, she stood free, and after a moment dared to stoop for her cane.
“Sun so high!” she cried, leaning back and looking, while the thick tears went over her eyes. “The time getting all gone here.”
At the foot of this hill was a place where a log was laid across the creek.
“Now comes the trial,” said Phoenix.
Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her, like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across. Then she opened her eyes and she was safe on the other side.
“I wasn’t as old as I thought,” she said.
But she sat down to rest. She spread her skirts on the bank around her and folded her hands over her knees. Up above her was a tree in a pearly cloud of mistletoe. She did not dare to close her eyes, and when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake on it she spoke to him. “That would be acceptable,” she said. But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air.
So she left that tree, and had to go through a barbed-wire fence. There she had to creep and crawl, spreading her knees and stretching her fingers like a baby trying to climb the steps. But she talked loudly to herself: she could not let her dress be torn now, so late in the day, and she could not pay for having her arm or her leg sawed off if she got caught fast where she was.
At last she was safe through the fence and risen up out in the clearing. Big dead trees, like black men with one arm, were standing in the purple stalks of the withered cotton field. There sat a buzzard.
“Who you watching?”
In the furrow she made her way along.
“Glad this not the season for bulls,” she said, looking sideways, “and the good Lord made his snakes to curl up and sleep in the winter. A pleasure I don’t see no two-headed snake coming around that tree, where it come once. It took a while to get by him, back in the summer.”
She passed through the old cotton and went into a field of dead corn. It whispered and shook and was taller than her head. “Through the maze now,” she said, for there was no path.
Then there was something tall, black, and skinny there, moving before her.
At first she took it for a man. It could have been a man dancing in the field. But she stood still and listened, and it did not make a sound. It was as silent as a ghost.
“Ghost,” she said sharply, “who be you the ghost of? For I have heard of nary death close by.”
But there was no answer–only the ragged dancing in the wind.
She shut her eyes, reached out her hand, and touched a sleeve. She found a coat and inside that an emptiness, cold as ice.
“You scarecrow,” she said. Her face lighted. “I ought to be shut up for good,” she said with laughter. “My senses is gone. I too old. I the oldest people I ever know. Dance, old scarecrow,” she said, “while I dancing with you.”
She kicked her foot over the furrow, and with mouth drawn down, shook her head once or twice in a little strutting way. Some husks blew down and whirled in streamers about her skirts.
Then she went on, parting her way from side to side with the cane, through the whispering field. At last she came to the end, to a wagon track where the silver grass blew between the red ruts. The quail were walking around like pullets, seeming all dainty and unseen.
“Walk pretty,” she said. “This the easy place. This the easy going.”
She followed the track, swaying through the quiet bare fields, through the little strings of trees silver in their dead leaves, past cabins silver from weather, with the doors and windows boarded shut, all like old women under a spell sitting there. “I walking in their sleep,” she said, nodding her head vigorously.
In a ravine she went where a spring was silently flowing through a hollow log. Old Phoenix bent and drank. “Sweet-gum makes the water sweet,” she said, and drank more. “Nobody know who made this well, for it was here when I was born.”
The track crossed a swampy part where the moss hung as white as lace from every limb. “Sleep on, alligators, and blow your bubbles.” Then the track went into the road.
Deep, deep the road went down between the high green-colored banks. Overhead the live-oaks met, and it was as dark as a cave.
A black dog with a lolling tongue came up out of the weeds by the ditch. She was meditating, and not ready, and when he came at her she only hit him a little with her cane. Over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milkweed.
Down there, her senses drifted away. A dream visited her, and she reached her hand up, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull. So she lay there and presently went to talking. “Old woman,” she said to herself, “that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and now there he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you.”
A white man finally came along and found her—a hunter, a young man, with his dog on a chain.
“Well, Granny!” he laughed. “What are you doing there?”
“Lying on my back like a June-bug waiting to be fumed over, mister,” she said, reaching up her hand.
He lifted her up, gave her a swing in the air, and set her down. “Anything broken, Granny?”
“No sir, them old dead weeds is springy enough,” said Phoenix, when she had got her breath. “I thank you for your trouble.”
“Where do you live, Granny?” he asked, while the two dogs were growling at each other.
“Away back yonder, sir, behind the ridge. You can’t even see it from here.”
“On your way home?”
“No sir, I going to town.”
“Why, that’s too far! That’s as far as I walk when I come out myself, and I get something for my trouble.” He patted the stuffed bag he carried, and there hung down a little closed claw. It was one of the bob-whites, with its beak hooked bitterly to show it was dead. “Now you go on home, Granny!”
“I bound to go to town, mister,” said Phoenix. “The time come around.”
He gave another laugh, filling the whole landscape. “I know you old colored people! Wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Claus!”
But something held old Phoenix very still. The deep lines in her face went into a fierce and different radiation. Without warning, she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickel fall out of the man’s pocket onto the ground.
“How old are you, Granny?” he was saying.
“There is no telling, mister,” she said, “no telling.”
Then she gave a little cry and clapped her hands and said, “Git on away from here, dog! Look! Look at that dog!” She laughed as if in admiration. “He ain’t scared of nobody. He a big black dog.” She whispered, “Sic him!”
“Watch me get rid of that cur,” said the man. “Sic him, Pete! Sic him!”
Phoenix heard the dogs fighting, and heard the man running and throwing sticks. She even heard a gunshot. But she was slowly bending forward by that time, further and further forward, the lids stretched down over her eyes, as if she were doing this in her sleep. Her chin was lowered almost to her knees. The yellow palm of her hand came out from the fold of her apron. Her fingers slid down and along the ground under the piece of money with the grace and care they would have in lifting an egg from under a setting hen. Then she slowly straightened up, she stood erect, and the nickel was in her apron pocket. A bird flew by. Her lips moved. “God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing.”
The man came back, and his own dog panted about them. “Well, I scared him off that time,” he said, and then he laughed and lifted his gun and pointed it at Phoenix.
She stood straight and faced him.
“Doesn’t the gun scare you?” he said, still pointing it.
“No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done,” she said, holding utterly still.
He smiled, and shouldered the gun. “Well, Granny,” he said, “you must be a hundred years old, and scared of nothing. I’d give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you.”
“I bound to go on my way, mister,” said Phoenix. She inclined her head in the red rag. Then they went in different directions, but she could hear the gun shooting again and again over the hill.
She walked on. The shadows hung from the oak trees to the road like curtains. Then she smelled wood-smoke, and smelled the river, and she saw a steeple and the cabins on their steep steps. Dozens of little black children whirled around her. There ahead was Natchez shining. Bells were ringing. She walked on.
In the paved city it was Christmas time. There were red and green electric lights strung and crisscrossed everywhere, and all turned on in the daytime. Old Phoenix would have been lost if she had not distrusted her eyesight and depended on her feet to know where to take her.
She paused quietly on the sidewalk where people were passing by. A lady came along in the crowd, carrying an armful of red-, green- and silver-wrapped presents; she gave off perfume like the red roses in hot summer, and Phoenix stopped her.
“Please, missy, will you lace up my shoe?” She held up her foot.
“What do you want, Grandma?”
“See my shoe,” said Phoenix. “Do all right for out in the country, but wouldn’t look right to go in a big building.” “Stand still then, Grandma,” said the lady. She put her packages down on the sidewalk beside her and laced and tied both shoes tightly.
“Can’t lace ’em with a cane,” said Phoenix. “Thank you, missy. I doesn’t mind asking a nice lady to tie up my shoe, when I gets out on the street.”
Moving slowly and from side to side, she went into the big building, and into a tower of steps, where she walked up and around and around until her feet knew to stop.
She entered a door, and there she saw nailed up on the wall the document that had been stamped with the gold seal and framed in the gold frame, which matched the dream that was hung up in her head.
“Here I be,” she said. There was a fixed and ceremonial stiffness over her body.
“A charity case, I suppose,” said an attendant who sat at the desk before her.
But Phoenix only looked above her head. There was sweat on her face, the wrinkles in her skin shone like a bright net.
“Speak up, Grandma,” the woman said. “What’s your name? We must have your history, you know. Have you been here before? What seems to be the trouble with you?”
Old Phoenix only gave a twitch to her face as if a fly were bothering her.
“Are you deaf?” cried the attendant.
But then the nurse came in.
“Oh, that’s just old Aunt Phoenix,” she said. “She doesn’t come for herself—she has a little grandson. She makes these trips just as regular as clockwork. She lives away back off the Old Natchez Trace.” She bent down. “Well, Aunt Phoenix, why don’t you just take a seat? We won’t keep you standing after your long trip.” She pointed.
The old woman sat down, bolt upright in the chair.
“Now, how is the boy?” asked the nurse.
Old Phoenix did not speak.
“I said, how is the boy?”
But Phoenix only waited and stared straight ahead, her face very solemn and withdrawn into rigidity.
“Is his throat any better?” asked the nurse. “Aunt Phoenix, don’t you hear me? Is your grandson’s throat any better since the last time you came for the medicine?”
With her hands on her knees, the old woman waited, silent, erect and motionless, just as if she were in armor.
“You mustn’t take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix,” the nurse said. “Tell us quickly about your grandson, and get it over. He isn’t dead, is he?’
At last there came a flicker and then a flame of comprehension across her face, and she spoke.
“My grandson. It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip.”
“Forgot?” The nurse frowned. “After you came so far?”
Then Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night. “I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming.”
“Throat never heals, does it?” said the nurse, speaking in a loud, sure voice to old Phoenix. By now she had a card with something written on it, a little list. “Yes. Swallowed lye. When was it?—January—two, three years ago—”
Phoenix spoke unasked now. “No, missy, he not dead, he just the same. Every little while his throat begin to close up again, and he not able to swallow. He not get his breath. He not able to help himself. So the time come around, and I go on another trip for the soothing medicine.”
“All right. The doctor said as long as you came to get it, you could have it,” said the nurse. “But it’s an obstinate case.”
“My little grandson, he sit up there in the house all wrapped up, waiting by himself,” Phoenix went on. “We is the only two left in the world. He suffer and it don’t seem to put him back at all. He got a sweet look. He going to last. He wear a little patch quilt and peep out holding his mouth open like a little bird. I remembers so plain now. I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time. I could tell him from all the others in creation.”
“All right.” The nurse was trying to hush her now. She brought her a bottle of medicine. “Charity,” she said, making a check mark in a book.
Old Phoenix held the bottle close to her eyes, and then carefully put it into her pocket.
“I thank you,” she said.
“It’s Christmas time, Grandma,” said the attendant. “Could I give you a few pennies out of my purse?”
“Five pennies is a nickel,” said Phoenix stiffly.
“Here’s a nickel,” said the attendant.
Phoenix rose carefully and held out her hand. She received the nickel and then fished the other nickel out of her pocket and laid it beside the new one. She stared at her palm closely, with her head on one side.
Then she gave a tap with her cane on the floor.
“This is what come to me to do,” she said. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand.”
She lifted her free hand, gave a little nod, turned around, and walked out of the doctor’s office. Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.
Up Ahead –
Earlier today I was on my way to an appointment when I ran into a long line at a traffic light. The light showed a green arrow when the turning lane I was in could go. After only a few moments the arrow turned green and nobody moved. I waited, waited, waited and began to grow impatient! “Don’t you see the arrow is green?!?!?” I thought to myself but still no one advanced. It was then I spied an ambulance moving through the intersection and it, of course, had the right away.
I sat there reflecting on my frustration at the situation. The driver at the front of the line saw the ambulance when I could not. They knew not to go, to wait, that patience and yielding were in order. It was a great reminder to me that life is not always about going. There are times, seasons, it’s about waiting, allowing others to move while we wait, hopefully, patiently.
The struggle is real! This morning it was 7 degrees outside. 7! Being Sunday this morning also means community worship at church. The blankets pulled up as I sat on the couch, the heating pad on high, a cup of coffee and the thought; “It’s too cold to go anywhere!” was running through my mind.
Beth, however, got up, began to get ready and this meant; “Up and at em!” So, on this frigid morn, we made our way over still partially snow-covered roads to church. We were running a little late but as we walked into the sanctuary we were right on time for communion. The pastor was quoting the familiar phrases and verses to prepare our souls for this sacred moment as we found our seats.
The elements (small pieces of unleavened bread and grape juice) were passed around to everyone and together we celebrated the; “The Lord’s Supper. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucharist).” As we digested the tiny morsel of bread and the taste of the grape juice was dancing on my tongue I felt, as John Wesley famously said; “My heart strangely warmed. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldersgate_Day)” and was thankful to be among the people of God this cold, wintry morning.
The Cycle –
I thought of someone today, a person I haven’t thought about in a long while. It was a song that stoked images, feelings, pain and regret. It’s been years since we’ve laid eyes upon each other and both of us have moved on but it is amazing how quick hurts begin to ache, old wounds begin to bleed, prejudices come out of the dark. After the song was finished, the emotions faded too and the rest of the day was typical.
Wisdom teaches us that forgiveness isn’t a one-time act, a single recitation of a phrase. Forgiveness is an ongoing process that takes years, perhaps even a lifetime. Forgiving the other is to also recognize our own injured ego, the part of us that still longs for revenge or recompense. When we forgive, especially those who have grievously mistreated us is not just accepting and then letting go what was done to us but recognizing and releasing what were still holding on to.
A Little Quieter –
Our Siberian Husky, Trooper, has a bed in our living room. When Beth and I are sitting watching the television or messing with tablets or the laptop most of the time he is the room with us. We haven’t always had a bed for him here but after we had to put Belle, our Golden Retriever, down we knew he would need some extra attention. Everything has worked out fine until the last couple of months. For some reason, he has become extra sensitive to noises coming from the TV. Explosions, gunfire, yelling or loud music in a movie rattles him and he begins to get up and wander around the living room. We’ve tried turning down the sound on the television as much as we can and this helps. We’ll also watch a documentary where there is mostly talking and this works. However, any type of movie or show with startling noises and/or blaring musical score and he gets up and we tell him to get back on his bed and this scenario is repeated until finally one of us takes him into the kitchen.
I was thinking about him today, this behavior which has developed, and decided maybe he’s not the one with the issues. When I think of 2016, the year which has passed, I think of noise. Most of it came as a result of the political season and the candidates, the talking heads on television and radio, the choosing of sides by almost everyone and a cacophony of opinions, predictions, debates between candidates and their followers, accusations, lies and boisterous babel that still hasn’t stopped.
I’ve decided, like our dog Trooper, I want a quieter 2017. Please…and world peace would also be acceptable.